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A life of involuntary servitute

What is the definition of a free country? Is America truly "the leader" when it comes to providing freedom to its citizens?

When I first moved to the U.S., at the age of 15, it was clear to me that Americans took a great deal of pride on the fact of being a free country. However, it wasn't 100% clear to me why they took so much pride on it. Eventually, I became a U.S. citizen and started living the American dream. Over time, I came to understand where this pride came from, but I also realized that it was not as perfect as some people have come to believe.

So, back to the initial question, what is the definition of a free country? Is it when you're allowed to vote? Is it freedom of speech? How about freedom of religion?

I think it is quite obvious that all of these rights are essential to any free country and we certainly appreciate their value and all the people that fought for them. However, I think we all know that these rights aren't unique to the U.S. With some obvious exceptions (e.g., North Korea, Cuba, some countries in the middle east, etc.), most countries also provide these benefits to their citizens. Think Canada, every country in South America, Europe, etc.

So, if these essential rights is not what sets a country apart in terms of freedom, what does? How about its ability to allow citizens to choose their destiny? This would include things such as, what career or job you work on, how much you work, how you manage your finances, how you balance your career with your other personal interests, and how you adapt and change these goals as you mature in life?

Now, for someone who has never been exposed to the family law system and alimony, you may be thinking: "What does this freedom talk have to do with alimony?" The answer is: Everything. I will use my personal story to illustrate and explain this concept.

My Story

During my 14-year marriage, I worked during the day and self-studied at night after putting the children to bed. Over time, I was able to advance my career in IT and started making more money. The ex was a stay at home mom who, despite my on-going requests, wasn't very fond of studying or working, even part-time after the children were going to school.

Unfortunately, I soon realized that my heart was not in IT. Although it provided a relatively good salary, it felt like a never ending treadmill with a ton of pressure. It was burning me out and consuming my soul. I knew I needed to do something about it.

I started looking for other career options. I considered starting a business, buying a business, or trying a franchise of some sort. Anything that was not related to IT! I also seriously considered the possibility of going back to school and getting a degree in something else (e.g., psychology, geology, petrochemical engineer).

Unfortunately, my ex was not in favor of such a change. In her mind, there was no reason to risk loosing a "successful" and stable source of income in exchange for the possibility of a business. Even worse, was the idea of starting on a different career making less money. Long story short, we had many arguments on this, but I was never "allowed" to follow my dreams. I continued to work in IT, at a great personal cost, for the sake of family preservation.

In retrospect, I was a retard. I should've told my wife that I understood her concerns, but that it was my decision in the end. Then I should've done what my gut feelings told me to do. Unfortunately, I wasn't strong, or wise enough to stand my ground...

Eventually, this and many other conflicts led to the end of my marriage. Like in most divorces, it was probably the hardest decision I had to ever make. It came with a full load of fears, concerns, and every other possible emotion that you can think of. However, at least I had one thing to look forward to: I could finally start working on my dream. I was free to realign my life with my personal goals and interests.

Then came the shocking news: If you're ordered to pay alimony, you can't make less money. I had to pay my $4,050 per month (including $1,550 of child support), no matter what. That was 42% of my gross income. If I decided to start a business and it failed or if it started slow, like most new businesses do, the alimony "debt" would pile up and the judge would send me to jail. If I took a job as a junior geologist and started making less money, the judge would send me to jail. If I took a less demanding IT job that paid less in order for me to go to school, the judge would send me to jail. If I made a mistake in my job and accidentally took a network down (not too hard to happen when you're a network engineer) and got fired, unless I could immediately find another job that paid the same or better, I would be accused of loosing my job on purpose and be sent to jail.

So that's my reality now. I'm forced to do work that I don't want to do and give most of the money to the ex. She doesn't work and will probably not work until alimony ends. If I refuse, the court can't send me to the post for some whipping, but they can take my retirement account (or what's left of it), my assets, and send me to jail. To me, that's called "involuntary servitude".

The Counter Argument

Now, this is where some people will say: "Well, you have a responsibility to your family and to your children." You also hear, "Well, your ex sacrificed her career for the family. Now it's your turn to help her.", or some variation of it.

The first argument (responsibility to your family/children) is as absurd as it gets. Cutting down your salary from 100K to 50K per year will not send your children into poverty. It will not destroy your ex's or the children's lives. In summary, no one is talking about abandoning all responsibilities and becoming a hitchhiker that travels around the world with a backpack. We are talking about adapting to new financial circumstances and lifestyles.

The current alimony law is based on the assumption that the ex is entitled to maintain the lifestyle that he/she is accustomed to. If that's so important, why not make a law that guarantees that right to all individuals in society. In other words, if I'm accustomed to living on $300K per year, no matter what happens with the economy, to the job marked, or to my employer, I should be entitled to keep receiving $300K per year, because that's what I'm accustomed to. The reason that law can never exist is because it would be impossible to implement it. In the real world (i.e., outside of the family court), people understand that the economy and life in general is a dynamic force that is constantly changing and adapting. For some reason, however, the ex receiving alimony must be shielded from this reality.

Equally unrealistic is the notion that an individual is not allowed to change his work and life priorities. In the real world, people can take chances on a new business, slow down to go back to school, or simply decide to change their lifestyle. A couple is allowed, for example, to reduce their income and workload in order to spend more time with the family. With the current law, however, these choices are not allowed.

For the second argument ("you own it to your ex"), see this article on "Is alimony fair or needed"? In summary, this argument is as flawed as the first one.

The Conclusion

Back to the original question of "is the U.S. a truly free country?", I recognize how much progress it has made over the centuries. I recognize how it is still far better than many other countries out there. I value what has been achieved with so much sacrifice from the different generations. However, when I see so many stories similar to mine, I think there is still a lot of progress to be made. I'm shocked that so many individuals like me, have been stripped of their right to manage their own lives. I'm also shocked at the fact that there is so little social unrest with this situation.

Now, this topic of freedom is a sensitive one for a lot of people, specially for those who grew up hearing that the U.S. is "the land of the free". Please understand that I'm not trying to undermine or reduce the value of the U.S. Instead, I'm trying to provide positive and constructive feedback with the goal of improving it. To me, the true patriot is the one who can be proud of his country while still recognizing the good and the bad, and take action to reduce the bad. Analyzing the reality and seeing the truth for what it is takes courage. Doing something about it takes determination. The alimony law needs to be changed to ensure that every individual has the right to choose and manage their work.

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