Who Pays for What in a Divorce?
A couple came in to see me today for a divorce mediation consultation. The wife was convinced that her husband had to move out of the house immediately and start paying child support, pay the mortgage and all the bills, and make sure that nothing changed in her life. I asked her why she thought that — it was simple, she said. Everyone knows that the wife gets to keep the house until the kids are eighteen and that the husband has to pay for it all. You wouldn’t want the children to be deprived. The clincher was the final source of all wisdom about divorce — her mother, who has divorced twenty years ago and who is, of course, an expert.
No offense to mom, or to anyone else who offers advice on divorce, but the ugly facts do, in fact, intrude. The myth that the mother and kids get to retain their life-style, even if dad has to live in the back seat of his car is just that — a myth. The reality is quite different.
Assuming that mom has residential custody then she will receive child support that is almost assuredly based on the New York State Child Support Standards Act (see this New York State goverment site for a calculator: (Note: the site appears to have been taken down.) There are some extras, such as uncovered medical expenses of children, but that is about it. Mom may be entitled to spousal maintenance (used to be called alimony, which is actually somewhat different from maintenance), but it is based on a long list of factors, of which one is maintaining the family’s life-style. However, other than child support, which is based squarely on a formula, any other support issues on constrained by the realities of income of both the husband and the wife.
I don’t recall ever hearing a judge tell a husband to get a second job so that his soon-to-be former wife doesn’t have to make any changes in her life. And one of the first questions you are likely to hear from a judge on this topic is, “Is the wife fully employed?”
It is true that, at times, during the course of actual litigation a judge may order the husband to pay for everything temporarily. Even then, the realities of income will constrain the judge. Neither the wife, nor the husband, nor the children, is going to be better off after the divorce. Two households are just more expensive than one.
Fortunately, mediation offers a means to deal with the issues up front, so that the husband and wife can work out a future that is optimal for everyone and that is based on reality. In the long run that is the most likely path for a successful outcome for everyone.