Monday, December 15, 2008

Victim #84: Indentured Servitude in Massachusetts

I am an alimony victim. My own alimony order is, in my view, among the more unjustified. I will give a brief summary and you can judge for yourselves.

My state is Massachusetts.

I met my ex-wife in 1980 when we were 30 and 27 yo respectively. A year later we began dating and did so on and off until 1990. During the dating period she broke it off twice, I was ambivalent.

She had a young son and was getting child support from the ex-husband/father. Summer of 1990 she was in desperate financial straights and about to lose her house. Against my own best judgment I offered to move in and pay rent to her so as to stave off foreclosure.

During the next 4 years we got along pretty well except for a few rocky spots but she began to need health care and escalated her use of my work-provided health plan. I had given her the OK to use its low-level benefits as my "spouse" but I became concerned when she made more extensive use of the plan. Since she needed more health care, and since we were getting along pretty well, I suggested marriage and she agreed; December 1994.

The first couple of years were fine but things went downhill steadily after that. The year 2000 was made a living hell for me by her alcohol abuse which had not previously been evident. She walked away from booze after that year but the damage had been done.

I was resigned to living in a now-loveless marriage because I saw no other way out. She needed continued health care coverage and did not work due to poor health. I thought it might be best for all concerned if we just got along as best we could. She evidently did not feel that way about it.

After years of empty threats of divorce she sought counsel (unknown to me) in the summer of 2004 and wanted to file but her lawyer put it off until January 2005 because that makes it, in the eyes of my state's probate courts, a "long-term marriage" (10 years or more).

Now, during the marriage I had refinanced the mortgage on the house, lowering the monthly payments in the process, and reduced the amount owed on it by about $30,000. Those facts, plus being legally married, made me feel like I had a legitimate claim to partial ownership of the house though it was originally hers and the deed remained in her name.

I was more than willing to walk away from any claim of partial house ownership in return for a clean break but that was not in the cards; they wanted alimony.

Now, it is important to point out here that I owed my ex-wife NOTHING! She made me no loans, she did not do anything to support my job (a job I had before, during, and after our relationship), she did not help me go to school, she did not do my laundry, she did not go shopping for me, she did not prepare bag lunches for me to take to work, and she did not cook for me with any regularity (when we shared meals she did virtually all of the cooking but I paid for virtually all of the ingredients). It can not be said that she ever did anything for me for which alimony could be seen as a remedy as means of repayment.

Anything she may have done for me can easily be balanced by those things I did for her so it was all a wash. On the other hand, it is a simple matter to argue that it was she who was in debt to me. As a result of our relationship her monthly mortgage payments were now at least 10% lower and the total amount owed on the mortgage was almost 50% lower.

At the original hearing a standard deal was struck: she keeps all of the house, I keep all of my pension, and I pay alimony ($150. per week, almost 25% of my take-home pay). My lawyer was to construct the final document for her signature. She balked at some of the language in the final agreement, got pissed actually, because it stated that if she married another man 'or woman' then the alimony would cease. She went ballistic at the mention of 'another woman' because she thought she was being accused of being a lesbian. I tried to explain to her that it only reflected the new boilerplate required in Massachusetts since gay marriage here is now legal but she was not mollified.

They now demanded the alimony be doubled to $300. Well, that was unacceptable. I simply was unable to pay that much so I refused, and that forced a trial which greatly increased my legal bills (while she was getting free legal counsel). The judge also warned ominously that she felt the new alimony demand was reasonable and that I might be wasting my time and money going to trial. At the trial I made the case that the marriage s****d and was basically over after only 5 years. I also was able to convince the court I was unable to pay $300. per week due to my own cost of living which includes very large credit card debt caused by the marriage.

After hearing the full details from my side the judge gave me a partial break: alimony was increased to "only" $200. per week instead of $300. and I would only have to keep her on my current job-provided health plan and NOT have to continue supplying health coverage for her once that plan is lost.

As earlier agreed to she gets all of the house and I keep all of my pension. Left unexplained are two points: 1) why should she have any claim on my pension in the first place since I did all the work and she did not, in ANY way, help me do that work nor did she "give up" anything so that I could do that work, and 2) how the hell am I supposed to continue paying alimony after I retire if: a) all of my pension is mine and b) all of my money comes from my pension every month (which will be the case)? If I must continue paying alimony after retirement then those payments must come from my pension checks since I am left with only debts and no savings. Go figure.

That is pretty much my whole story. The judge as much as admitted that if "I" did not help support my ex-wife then the state would wind up helping to support her since she is, technically, disabled due to poor health. Now, I don't want to sound insensitive, but once I was divorced from her, and once all debts between us were settled, what the hell is the argument for ordering me to contribute to her support indefinitely? I mean, they might as well pick some poor schmuck out of the phone book at random, select some poor needy woman off the welfare rolls at random, and order the man to start sending her checks.

IMHO, my case is a clear violation of............................

13th. Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a
punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,
shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by
appropriate legislation.

Sorry this ran so long but it felt good to pour it all out.