Submitted by: Madeline Grace
Are no-fault divorce laws in the best financial interest of women? Not according to the study below.
In the late 1980s, several states set up task forces to study gender bias in the courts. For example, in Colorado, one section of the task force was charged with the area of divorce. It studied cases taken directly from the court files. The parameters were that
- The marriage have lasted 12 years or longer,
- The case be decided by a judge as opposed to being settled out of court, and
- There was a minimum of $10,000 in positive net worth.
There were 28 cases in the year previous to the study that matched the above parameters. Out of 28 cases, the average length of marriage was 20.5 years. At the time of divorce, the average age of the wife was 44, the husband, 45. Eleven of the 28 families had net assets of less than $50,000 at the time of divorce and ten had net assets of $100,000 or more.
At the time of the court order, the wife’s average net worth was slightly greater than the husband’s, because she was usually given less of the marital debt. Within four years of the divorce, however, the wife’s projected net worth declined by 25 percent while the husband’s nearly doubled. Within eight years of the divorce, the wife will have a negative net worth while the husband’s projected net worth is approximately $200,000.
In gathering data, besides looking at the court files, the Colorado task force interviewed many divorced men and women. One woman told her story about the alimony award after 38 years of marriage during which she was not employed. The judge ordered her husband to pay her $300 per month for two years. He awarded the house, appraised at $160,000, to the wife, and all the other assets, including a retirement fund, to the husband, saying, “Mother has been out of the work force, and if we gave her all that money she wouldn’t know how to handle it.”
Another woman told the Colorado task force that she had been awarded a tractor as part of the property settlement but her ex-husband refused to deliver it. She had tried for four years to get the original order enforced, without success. One district judge gave her former husband permission to continue using the tractor. When her lawyer objected, the judge asked her what she was going to do with the tractor.
The Washington State Task Force on Gender and Justice in the Courts found that only 10% of all wives being divorced were awarded alimony and the average amount was $432 per month for an average length of 2.6 years. The national average as of spring 1986 had 15 percent of wives receiving an average of $329 per month.
On Sunday Governor Patterson signed into law, no-fault divorce laws in New York State. In a statement after signing the new bill Paterson said that fault divorce laws, “harmed the interests of those persons — too often women — who did not have sufficient financial wherewithal to protect their legal rights.”
I know that over twenty years have passed since the above study but not much has changed as far as the long-term financial impact of divorce on women. One of the few states where a woman did have a fighting chance in divorce court was New York State. Thanks to new no-fault divorce laws, those women can now join the others of us who have been victimized by no-fault divorce laws.
When will legislators learn that it isn’t the law that is the problem, it is the system one has to deal with after filing for divorce. Too bad laws can’t be passed to monitor how civil and respectful we are to each other throughout the divorce process.