Friday, September 5, 2008

Punishing the bad spouse

If there's a tiny silver lining to that horrendous story, it's that the daughter's eyes have opened about her father, and she might support her mother in the divorce litigation and be more understanding of her point of view.

One thing -- judges don't award settlements based on egregious or immoral spousal behavior. A recent etiquette column in the NY Times featured a woman from Manhattan who wrote: "My husband of 27 years and I are divorcing; he left me for a woman young enough to be our daughter. He is bringing her to our beach club, where he gropes and fondles her like an adolescent. It's disgusting and humiliating for our children and me. I asked him to take his tramp elsewhere, but he refused. What should I do?"

Nauseating. The columnist advised that she steer clear of the club until the divorce comes through, reassuring her that because of her husband's creepy behavior, "the club membership, as well as the house and most of the larger bank accounts, will soon be yours anyway."

Unfortunately, that's not true. Judges divide property and award alimony based on financial "fairness" and state law -- equitable distribution in NY, 50/50 split in California, etc. They don't use the settlement as a way to "punish" bad spousal behavior. I learned this from my own divorce lawyer, to my disappointment. I and many other women (and some men, like X's exes) would have done a lot better if judges were more judgmental.

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