Here in sunny California, marriages of ten years or more are considered marriages of “long duration” and if divorce occurs thereafter the court is NOT allowed to set a definite termination date for spousal support at the time of trial.
Now the median age people get married in California is 29.5 and life expectancy is 80.77. So let’s say a couple gets married when both of them are 29.5 years old and they happen to decide to divorce when both are 40. That means that the primary breadwinner could be required to pay spousal support every month for the next 40 years or more.
Famously, Tom Cruise filed to divorce Nicole Kidman – according to him – three days shy of their tenth marriage anniversary. However, according to Nicole, “…the parties had (already) happily celebrated their 10th anniversary with a group of friends. During the balance of December and thereafter the parties were intimate; in fact [Kidman] became pregnant by [Cruise] but lost the baby through a miscarriage.” Apparently Nicole saved the placenta from the miscarriage and used it in court to prove that their marriage had lasted more than ten years and she was entitled to 50% of their combined net worth. The court agreed with Nicole.
So I guess the moral of the story is for ladies in California to save their emissions for the first few months after their ten year anniversaries…?
Since becoming a psychotherapist I have encountered many women amidst various stages of divorce and there appear to be recurring themes in their narratives.
Firstly, I have met two women whose husbands – like Tom Cruise – filed for divorce just before the ten year mark. In one case, the marriage was going fine, the husband asked the wife to sign a “post-nuptial” agreement forfeiting her long-term rights, she refused, and he divorced her at nine years and eleven months. There was no problem in the relationship of which she was aware; the husband merely did not want to be obligated to share his potential future earnings with her.
I have also met six women whose marriages had lasted more than ten years and who lived in rather nice homes but whose marriages were no longer functional so the couples decided to divorce.
And here is where things get dicey.
Because although the laws are stringent for long-term marriages regarding spousal support and dividing assets 50/50, teams of extremely savvy lawyers and accountants have devised myriad strategies for the primary breadwinners (in these cases all of the primary breadwinners happened to be the husbands) to “protect” and “retain” (i.e., hide) incomes and assets.
In one marriage, the husband had built a successful business overseas that made and imported a top-selling product in a well-known American grocery store. The husband, however, had not taken a salary while he built this business and was able to hide the actual worth of the company under reams of expenses. Then he had the audacity to SUE THE (salaried) WIFE for spousal support even though everyone knew what the overseas factory was really worth.
One husband kept taking $20,000 vacations with his girlfriend and arriving in court in his $110,000 sports car and telling the judge his salary was $40,000 per year.
Two husbands kept properties bequeathed to them during the marriages in their parent’s trusts/living wills until the divorces were final so that funds available for support and the wife’s attorneys fees would not include these assets.
Another husband apparently sold his investments to relatives for pennies fully intending on buying them back after the divorce settled.
Another husband managed to transfer funds to off-shore bank accounts that could not be discovered even by hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of forensic accountants.
Another husband somehow managed to have his employers pay him in cash so that his tax returns claimed he was a pauper when he lived more like a prince.
But those are not even the really horrifying parts, because it seems as if the true strategy of the husbands’ attorneys in all of these cases was to bleed the wives dry with attorney fees – while the husbands attorney’s continued to line their own pockets also. Two of the women paid their lead attorneys $800 dollars per hour and then the assisting attorneys who did most of the grunt work were a steal at $450 – $600 per hour. One woman spent $900,000 on attorney fees, another spent over a million, and two others spent in the low-mid six figures. In one case the wife’s attorney refused to sign-off on the final paperwork when the wife declined to spend another $300,000 on forensic accountants in order to locate the potential millions that the husband was hiding in foreign investments.
Ironically (from a safe distance, that is), it seems as if some of the husbands were willing to pay millions to attorneys to insure that the mothers of their children did not get those same millions. I had thought that the opposite of love was indifference, but some of these characters make a strong argument for the opposite of love being hate.
The tricks used by the men and their attorneys in these cases also include asking the judges for perpetual continuances at every opportunity. Men still earn more than women and in these cases the husbands had much deeper (albeit hidden) pockets than their wives so every extra month of proceedings meant hemorrhaging the wives’ already depleted bank accounts.
When speaking with these traumatized women, it seemed almost inconceivable that they had spent years being courted by, romanced by, married to, making love with, traveling the world with, and making babies with the same men who were now doing everything in their power to crush and destroy them.
And I will not even mention how the men tried to pit the children against their mothers (the favorite strategy appears to entail insinuating that the mother is mentally ill), failed to return texts and telephone calls regarding the drop-offs and exchanges of children, gaslit the women in public (the preferred location to gaslight your wife is apparently at your children’s school), and in once case even instigated an investigation by Child Protective Services of the mother of his own children.
Granted, these women who I have met may be isolated cases.
On the other hand, it appears that this could be one of those “rules were made to be broken/skirted” situations – like the U.S. tax system – where after a period of time enough loopholes have been discovered or created to render the law ineffectual and in some cases have unintended psychological ramifications.
I asked noted Family Law Attorney Dorothy Gibbons-White about this and she told me that besides “conscious un-coupling,” “the only way to prevent such traumatic conflicts are properly drafted premarital agreements that address who gets what assets and income in the event of divorce and also set forth minimum testamentary provisions for the lower net worth spouse. The time and money spent on this process before the marriage can save hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars” (as well as the therapy necessary to process what feels like the ultimate betrayal) in the case of divorce.
But for those idealists and romantics who swear to love and cherish until death do they part, maybe it is time to update and revise the divorce laws to eliminate the loopholes, strategies, and games, and make the outcomes less acrimonious?
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