Tainted Love? Let Us Count the Cost. Forbes Magazine Audits Adultery's Accounts.

"How Much Does Infidelity Cost?", Forbes.com asks. I'm just glad someone is asking the question, and acknowledging that such choices, and divorce, have costs and are not "value-neutral."

The article starts with costs so trivial as to be ridiculous, but then follows out some very foreseeable and common consequences -- separate vacations, faraway hideaways, therapy, marriage counseling, separation, restraining orders among new partners and old, loss of security clearances and arms-bearing rights for people under restraining orders, divorce, increased divorce-lawyer costs as the adultery makes every issue in the divorce more vicious and hard-fought, job loss for workplace affairs, a few months of unemployment, and finally a new job that pays 20% less. 

The writing tone is a little bit like a typical canned article, what Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones called "a two-shrink, five-friend" article, except that the subject is so rarely brought up in the media, though it has always been a huge topic in life, art and literature. There's a bit of copy-editing, or lack thereof, that's really surprising in a top-flight source like Forbes. A couple times I thought I was reading one of those odd articles that are taken from real ones, then run through a couple translators and/or some guys in India who didn't qualify for jobs with the gang that calls people up pretending to be "Windows." That's happened to many of my own articles. It ends oddly, like a freshman term paper ending at the exact turn-in deadline with a neat balancing of supposed opposites that actually makes no sense, resting on assumptions and definitions that reveal the author to know far less of the basic terms and context than it appeared from the introduction as it rose slowly through 50 shades of obvious, or from the body of the paper as the student could lean this way and that on quotations and cautiously slight paraphrases of opposing authorities on the topic. Anyhow, back to the Forbes article.  No, wait, this lamest conclusion that I've seen, except in term papers that potential interns send me as writing samples, goes on for two paragraphs of appalling shallowness, totally betraying the whole point of the article by nattering about these things as if they were subjects one would encounter for the first and last time in a college class, and never in real life:

"Who are the people engaging in these covert relationships? Nika Kabiri, Director of Strategic Insights for Avvo, the company which offers a fixed fee uncontested divorce, recently conducted a relationship study to uncover this answer.

Avvo is where you go for reliable studies of marriage? I mean, they're a great company for what they do, and I'm sure Kabiri and his team are good at studying their potential customers, but there are actual disinterested scholars, statisticians and therapists who study these things, many of whom are studying how to keep more marriages healthy and together, not to grow the number of people who get ensnarled in family/legal problems.

"Kabiri found that 61% of Americans are unhappily married.

[I've never seen a figure over the high 40s.] 

"Yet only ¼ of these people say that divorce is inevitable if one no longer wants a romantic relationship with his/her spouse. In fact, nearly 80% believe in staying together so much so that they are open to exploring alternatives to breaking up. Only half of these people say that if their partner wanted an open relationship they would leave him or her. [What about those who respond with, "Oh No, you won't,", among many others?]  In other words half who are confronted with a partner who wants to stray are willing to talk about it, work through it, maybe even be part of an open relationship. 

[Uh, you're not curious about defining who wants to fix the marriage versus who wants an 'open relationship'?]

"While on the surface it seems that having an affair is financially a more affordable road than divorc'em this is not necessarily the case. Clearly the emotional, mental and financial hardship could end up being more detrimental than enduring a divorce."

Huh? Despite everything in the first half of the article, now  "Having an Affair"and "Divorce'Em" are not cause-and-effect, but the two mutually exclusive alternatives for a Smart Shopper to thoughtfully consider? All that talk about how a marriage that grows unhappy doesn't have to devolve into divorce, and in fact 80% of them recover, and suddenly the only alternatives to divorce are affairs and "open relationships"? Sick.

"How Much Does Infidelity Cost? The Real Dollars & Cents", by Kerri Zane ,on Forbes.com


US divorce rates up slightly; latest state, international, military & age-based rates


Think family court is a big racket? You're not alone ... until you get to court. Then you truly are.

One of those crank lawsuits of a kind that gets filed and discarded every day has, for once, gotten big coverage in a mainstream newspaper. "Lawsuit claims divorce court is a racket: Dismissed at district level, case is being appealed to 9th Circuit". San Diego Union-Tribune

If you polled people on the street, you'd find that to be a pretty common view, perhaps not a majority but a plurality of the same kind that makes the presidential primaries so interesting. But in the family court system, people who have cases there, and start saying things like that, are treated like the lunatic fringe. To the judges and everyone else involved, the issue is no longer whatever substantive question was originally in dispute. The issue is now the disgruntled litigants' extremism and behavior.  They are sometimes put under special orders keeping them from filing anything unless and until a single, permanently-designated judge has reviewed it and allowed it.

These litigants too often put their "last stands" on principle ahead of their actual parenting of their children. They are unwilling to bow and bend to a system they see as illegitimate and corrupt, even if they understand that that is the way to be treated better and get more time with their children.

Is the system a racket? No. Not where I work, anyway. But it doesn't have to be. It still works in a way that looks irrational to most people. It still takes people, some already cranky, and some fairly normal, perhaps even too nice, processes them, and cranks out a huge number of cranks.

When our state legislators and all those of us who help mold our culture, all the "second-hand dealers in ideas," as Hayek called us, decided decades ago to encourage widespread divorce, this was a major part of what we created. 

Americans are not brought up and educated in how a family court system works. In the courts which we learn about on TV and in civics class, a jury of 12 average local people makes the big decisions, and the judge is just a referee. And those decisions are about who did something wrong and who gets punished.

Parents who have chosen divorce or unwed parenthood, or had it thrust upon them, have no idea that instead of that system, they are going into a system where regardless of fault or faultlessness, a judge will tell them in great detail how to live and move and raise their children, now and forever until they all are grown. Nor that instead of one big trial to establish guilt or innocence and resolve everything, they may be back in court every few weeks, months or years, for enforcement, monitoring, and revision of those orders.

In that way, the family law courts work like the ecclesiastical and chancery courts that used to handle family issues, the ones that Dickens savaged in novels like Bleak House. And for good reasons, because a family is not like a business contract or a car accident.

But they also feature the most delaying, expensive, and inflammatory features of the American legal system, because this is America -- you always have the right to your day in court, to litigate about everything, to insist on strict compliance with the rules of evidence -- even when dealing with areas of life where people don't generally keep the relevant evidence, or where no witnesses are there when the really important stuff happens, or where evidence and testimony are easily faked. You can always appeal, and appeal. You have to go through all the expensive, exhausting procedures that were designed for big business litigation. Your lawyers have the ethical duty to do what you say you want, after doing their ethical duty to advise you about a bewildering array of awful things that you could do to your ex and your ex might even now be doing to you. And each of these individual things is necessary and proper, as part of the greatest legal system in the world. Even if you hate to comply with them and hate it when the other side does those things, you want the other side to comply and you want to be able to do those things to them.

That's the system we put far more families into when we tried to make divorce easier and more humane by enacting quick, unilateral, no-fault divorce, letting far more people jump straight into court without first working things out in an agreement.


Pros and cons of one-year vs. two-year separation period for contested divorce litigation -- a divorce lawyer reflects

At the end of 2017, couples began to be affected by Pennsylvania's the new divorce law, which cut the living-apart period before filing contested no-fault divorce litigation, without mutual consent and without all the financial and child-related issues worked out, from two years to one year. Carolyn R. Mirabile, a partner and family law group head at Weber Gallagher Simpson Stapleton Fires & Newby in Norristown, Pa., looks back at what seemed to have worked better under the old law, and what improvements she hopes for from the new law. 

One Year Later On the One-Year Separation

By Carolyn R. Mirabile in The Intelligencer - Mar 15, 2018


Adultery Constitutionally Protected, Mustn't "Stigmatize", Federal 9th Circuit Rules

Perez v. City of Roseville, as described in:

Ninth Circuit: Adultery Is Constitutionally Protected

The court holds that Lawrence v. Texas limits government restrictions on extramarital sex.


Where Congress's attack on alimony tax exclusion came from: Both sides' explanations insufficient, not reality-based. Here's what we know:

The House-passed GOP tax bill shifts the tax burden on alimony from alimony payors to recipients. I.e., about 97% of the time, from divorced women to divorced men, who we all assume are in higher tax brackets than their exes. Currently, alimony is considered part of the recipient's taxable income, and not the payor's. The change would affect alimomy from post-2017 court orders or agreements, including modifications of earlier orders.(There's one feature of the bill that's completely good, and apparently not controversial: Including alimony payments pursuant to a written marital agreement, with no court order, in the definition of alimony.)

 It's important to sometimes pause from a search for subtle "incentives" and subliminal effects, and remind ourselves what the most basic and obvious effect of a policy change is: In this case, taxing men instead of women on tens of thousands, sometimes over $100,000, of annual income. Alimony is all or most of many divorced women's incomes, and can already take a very large fraction of some men's incomes. Virginia's guidelines call for at least 28% of a breadwinner's gross income as alimony to a non-working spouse, and that's before child support, and before any deductions from his paycheck for taxes, social security, etc. 

Lawyers, journalists and even the National Organization for Women have attacked the proposal, not for being anti-male, but for changing the law's current incentive for men to agree to pay alimony, and thus reducing the amount of alimony women would get. The change probably would have that effect, but that whole argument probably only occurred to them because this is a Republican proposal and it fits the narrative of a GOP "War on Women". Ordinarily, women's groups would be all for something that shifts divorce women's tax burdens wholesale onto their exes.

Blogger Stuart Levine, and many columnists quoting him, including Kevin Drum at the usually more thorough Mother Jones, have really only speculated about why anyone would want to do such a thing. Liberal writers and the supposably* conservative proponents of the change seem to share the mutually convenient illusion that this is an attack on divorce, on behalf of Christian morality. But that simply has nothing to do with how divorce, alimony or taxes actually work. The GOP Ways & Means Committee Summary says only this on behalf of the change:

  • The provision would eliminate what is effectively a “divorce subsidy” under current law, in that a divorced couple can often achieve a better tax result for payments between them than a married couple can.
  • ... spousal support as a consequence of a divorce or separation should have the same tax treatment as the provision of spousal support within the context of a married couple, as well as the provision of child support.
  • ... the provision would increase revenues by $8.3 billion over 2018-27.

Frankly, living as close to Republican Washington as I do, it sounds like a young staffer who doesn't know anyone who pays alimony, who hasn't been invovled in a divorce, and just recently got off the parental  tax returns and started filing form 1040-EZ, was thrown mysterious, possibly garbled instructions for changing something about alimony taxation, and was given 15 minutes to come up with some Republican-sounding arguments for it. But actually, the proposal was part of an early-2014 "Tax Reform Act" introduced by former Ways & Means chair Rep. Dave Camp, now retired,  and the arguments above are repeated verbatim from the Committee Summary of that bill. 

The "subsidy" argument, to the extent that it's either launched or received as an attempt to discourage divorce, partakes of the long-standing and totally wrongheaded assumption that "a couple" decides to get divorced, and may be incentivized, rewarded or punished for doing so. This dates back to the early days of no-fault divorce reform, when reformers picked the most compelling poster-children, decent people who both wanted to divorce but who were caged in "Holy Deadlock" by laws that denied them a divorce even when they both wanted one. Some conservatives and moralists, being apparently unfamiliar with divorce, and gullible about letting their opponents pick the battlefield and define its terms, compliantly responded that these couples were hastily giving up on their marriage and should be incentivized, restricted, counseled, and/or made to wait to see if it's what "they" really wanted. And whenever any change to loosen or tighten divorce laws is proposed, the same old arguments are dusted off, even though divorce decisions have long been unilateral and the proposed changes hardly ever would affect the "poster children" whom the arguments describe. 

Individuals decide to divorce, pay taxes after divorce, and might or might not respond to incentives. Couples don't and can't.

The Committee's equality-based argument is even more surreal. Spousal support after separation or divorce is very different from what the Committee refers to as "spousal support within the context of a married couple", which it says should receive the same tax treatment. Uh, a married couple that isn't separated lives together as a family and an economic unit, and doesn't pay support checks to each other. And they can't get "the same tax treatment", because a married couple files taxes jointly or as the very disadvantageous "married filing separately", while divorced people file as single, or jointly with their new spouses. Again, this sounds like college debaters grasping for arguments about parts of adult life that they know nor care nothing about. 

 Here's what might have led to this: Veteran Congressman Lloyd Doggett D-TX last year was pushing a plan to require 1099s for alimony payments, citing a Treasury study showing about $2.3 billion a year in alimony excluded from payors' income but never reported by recipients. He wanted to use the revenue it gleaned to help states improve their foster care systems."He has been discussing the issue with Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady," Congressional Quarterly Roll Call reported. Perhaps the drafters set out to do what Doggett proposed, then realized that it would be simpler, cheaper, and revenue-positive to eliminate the tax code's recognition of alimony entirely, and seized on the 2014 proposal and arguments. It's probably the pet project of one Ways & Means member or staffer who's been there since Camp was Chair.

But where are the deeper, more extensive arguments that ordinarily would lead to something like this? To find out I traced backwards from the only article I found in favor of the change, "A Human Capital Theory of Alimony and Tax", by feminist law professor  Tessa Davis in the  George Mason Law Review. The only part of it I've thoroughly read is its abstract, every word of which is totally wrong, except for the stuff about "Family Law Theory", the entire posited existence of which is not only wrong, but should not be conceiveable in a rational world where people care about the real-life effects of anything. Even to utter its name, silently to oneself,  throws down a gauntlet and crosses a Rubicon into a world where mere Families and Laws will henceforth be trivial playthings in the tiny hands of academic Theories and their adepts and familiars.

And yet I cannot help but admire Davis for having the monumental audacity to claim to speak for "a scholarly consensus" in favor of some kind of fundamental change. She cites only two previous proposals for tax law to disregard alimony: Rep. Camp's 2014 bill, and Donald H. Berman, "The Alimony Deduction: Time to Slaughter the Sacred Cow," 4 Am. J. of Tax Pol’y 49 (1985). Berman called the exclusion "inequitable, complex and arbitrary", and above all, unnecessary now that marginal tax rates had declined from a healthy, vigorous 91% to a negligible 50%. More of the history of dissent from the current regime can be learned from another, very solid, article Davis cites, Deborah Geier, "Simplifying and Rationalizing the Federal Income Tax Law Applicable to Transfers in Divorce," 55 TAX LAWYER 363 (2001).  It recounts that in the mid-1980s, Senate Finance Committee staffers proposed totally eliminating the alimony exclusion. They tried to rally women's groups to their side. The ultimate results they got, and possibly what they were aiming for all along, were incremental restrictions that may have helped increase revenue and predictability.  (Id., pp. 404-406.)  The article advocates letting couples choose who'll pay the taxes on any forms of support or property transfers, with a default rule that the recipient has to pay them. It cites a very similar proposal, Laurie L. Malman, "Unfinished Reform: The Tax Consequences of Divorce," 61 N.Y.U. L. REV. 363, 367 (1986).

 Davis's own argument is that alimony in a divorce is mostly viewed as compensation for "human capital," or return on investment or compensation for loss, none of which are taxed, and that any distinction between it and property transfers is artificial. (See pp. 50-55 of her article, downloadable from the abstract web page.) (Malman made similar arguments for her free-choice proposal.)

But the problem is, normal alimony, the kind that qualifies for the tax exclusion, almost always comes directly from someone's income -- where, unlike property, it get taxed if the Code doesn't exclude it -- and goes to provide income for someone else. The IRS has established clear, easily-followed boundaries between regular alimony and non-qualifying lump-sums that are more like property division. And in real alimony negotiations and trials, alimony is almost totally based on income -- needs and ability to pay. Yes, decisions are sometimes influenced by arguments about spouses' contributions to the marriage, but when statutes,  judges and litigants look at women having sacrificed their own careers for the sake of a husband's career or to raise children, their point is that the women have a legitimate reason for needing supplemental income, and that it may take time for them to wholly or partly "rehabilitate" their earning potential.

Once again, this time on the left, the theorists are looking at the subtler reasons for alimony and missing what it obviously IS and what it's almost always FOR in real life.

 

----- 

* "Supposably" is a real word. It's from Seinfeld.


Defending marriage vs. unwanted dissolution, turning weakness into strength: Tim Kaine's first cases

"Diane married James against [her] guardian’s wishes and [the guardian] wanted to get the marriage annulled. Kaine represented Diane in a lawsuit to preserve her marriage. He fought the guardian and won, learning that the guardian wanted Diane’s dis­ability checks.

“'What started off as a marriage case in Richmond Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court ended up as a criminal trial against the guardian in federal court,' he said.

"Kaine said, 'I learned a lot from Di­ane.' including the responsibility of law practice and that what a lawyer does really mat­ters.

“'And I also learned a critical lesson that served me well through­out my career— whatever the is­sue seems to be at first, look deeper. The marriage law­suit, ostensibly filed to protect a mentally disabled person, was really the guardian’s effort to continue the subjugation of Diane and the theft of her disability payments,' he said.

From "The Education of Tim Kaine", by  in Virginia Lawyers' Weekly, May 27, 2016, p. 3.  Also available on Sen. Kaine's web site.

The article, about Kaine's talk at William & Mary's law school graduation, also includes some vital advice for lawyers and pretty much everyone else:

At one point Kaine said he sat at his computer with a mental block. Then he recalled a line from Second Corinthians, “in my weakness is my strength.” He said he understood then that “you can’t flee from your weak­nesses but have to embrace and own them as a natural part of being hu­man. I was afraid. But somehow, just admitting that to myself helped me jump back into the work and crank out all the pleadings and advocate at all the hearings right up to the last day.”

Kaine said, “This is a lesson that I come back to again and again in my life. Fleeing from your weaknesses or pretending that you don’t have them makes you weak. But acknowledging your weaknesses, which can be very hard to do, in one of life’s great mys­teries, can make you strong.”

He closed his remarks with a prom­ise to the new grads: “My clients taught me lessons that I still reflect on today, long after I gave up law practice because of the demands of full time public service. They changed me as a lawyer and they changed me as a per­son. And they will change you too,” he said.

 


How is family law like pornography? Google Ads is going to censor it, that's how.

Raleigh, NC lawyer Lee Rosen has been THE cutting-edge lawyer for every new innovation in law practice and firm management for the past 20 years, at least in my field, family law. When a friend of mine got a job with him in the late '90s, she wasn't given her own office or cubicle -- no one was. Instead, the firm had different areas for doing different kinds of work, like a hospital. It was exactly what she needed, as someone who, like many of us, had trouble focusing and staying  on task without some social and environmental reinforcement. Already, back then, The Rosen Firm had a form on its web site where you could check boxes for all the different issues in your family law case and get a quote for the firm's flat fee, a billing practice that eliminates most of the worry, friction, heartache and regret from the attorney-client relationship. Later I got a notice that the firm was closing its offices and replacing them with home/mobile offices and small conference centers. If it had been anyone else, it would have been a self-parodying last hurrah of a quickly-disappearing business, but since it was from Lee, I knew it was the wave of the future -- indeed, a long-overdue adaptation to the present. Lee -- still the owner of a relatively large law firm for our field -- posted a picture of his office -- his Macbook Air on a small folding bookcase in his kitchen. Then I heard he was getting rid of all his books via a service that scans them for a flat fee of a dollar apiece. Then most of the stuff in his house. Then his house,  following the same principle he already applied to office equipment, software, data storage, and most clerical services: why own when you can rent, why lease when you can month-to month, why that when you can on-demand? Today he's more prominent as a firm management consultant, trainer and speaker. He has always kept a hawk's eye on customer service, and on what everything we do looks and feels like to potential clients, and what they expect from other businesses they deal with.

Anyhow, today's issue of Divorce Discourse, Lee's longtime blog/newsletter, is titled "How Family Law Is Like Pornography". Its news was shocking and frustrating, at least to divorce lawyers: A message from Google's web advertising service said that "interest-based" banner/sidebar advertising would no longer include several sensitive subjects, including divorce. A sobering reminder of where family law stands.

And yet, when you think about it, it makes sense. These are ads that tell you, and anyone looking at your computer, what you have been searching for and reading. And of course it's not really censorship, that's just a shorthand, in a twitter-length headline, for a decision by a private company about who to do business with and what unsolicited images and words to stick into people's computer screens. 


Sorry, America, you're not sharp enough to safely have affairs, or computers -- @JenniferWeiner

Jennifer Weiner is a first-rate writer, bestselling novelist, old-style newspaper journalist and Princeton grad who gets dismissed as "chick lit" because she chooses to write about something that was long one of the main subjects of Literature but is now considered "Romance" or "Young Adult" -- the mating and marriage habits of young-to-middle-aged people who are fairly normal, at least compared to most characters in Literature. For those of us who aren't up for one of her novels right now, she shows off what she can do in:

The Ashley Madison Hack Shows We’re Too Dumb to Cheat

 By Jennifer Weiner, New York Times, AUG. 20, 2015