The real cost of alimony
According to the Divorce Corp. documentary, the U.S. family law is a $50 billion per year industry. A litigated divorce can easily cost around $30,000. Just to put it into context, the 78tht biggest economy in the world has a GDP of $49 billion*. With $50 billion, you could build 6,763 elementary schools, or 2,850 hospitals, or pay for $5 million scholarships per year at public 4-year universities**.
However, the biggest cost of divorce is not the $50 billion per year that is wasted in endless litigation made up of motions, evaluations, hearings, and trials. The biggest cost is what it does to the family, or what is left of it after the current law finishes its job.
There is no need to explain why divorce is a complicated and sensitive subject by nature. It deals with deep and powerful emotions. These emotions can have many different sources for each individual, such as the end of the family unit dream, a sense of failure, shame and/or disappointment, feelings of abandonment or betrayal, fear of the upcoming unknown, loneliness, anger, regret, etc. Add to that what is probably the most flammable ingredient for creating conflict and you will have the perfect bomb: money.
The current alimony law provides every possible incentive for divorcing couples to fight. Couples that could easily finish off a divorce in less than a month end up in an endless loop of conflict and litigation in court. See this article on the problem with the current Utah alimony law.
Unfortunately, the conflict is not limited to the adults. Its consequences go far beyond the trial period and have a direct impact on the children. During this difficult transition in life, parents need to be more united than ever for them. While the parents may not be able to agree on everything, they need to develop an effective co-parenting strategy. Doing so requires at least some level of respect and support for each other. This is much easier said than done when there is alimony in the middle.
The reality of alimony is that it brings a lot of animosity into the relationship. People will often go out of their way in order to "maximize" their gain, or to reduce the payment amount. This includes lying about their earning ability, making all kinds of accusations about each other, and in some extreme cases, involving the children into the discussion (e.g., "Your dad doesn't want to help us have a good living.", or "I don't have any money because I have to give most of it to your mom because she doesn't want to work.")
The party who is paying for alimony feels that he/she is being ripped off and taken advantage of. The party who is receiving it feels that he/she had to fight hard in order to get her rights. In a best case scenario, this rivalry will go on until the very last payment of alimony. This resentment and its consequences is very well illustrated by senator Tom Lee's story, which he shared during a Florida senate debate on alimony reform (link). In his story, he tells how his parents got divorced when he was still a kid. Unfortunately, alimony payments brought much resentment to his family, to a point where his parents were never able to have a healthy and supportive co-parenting relationship with each other. There was constant bitterness and his parents missed the opportunity of attending birth parties, school events, and many other activities together. The relationship only became better after alimony ended. All of the sudden, his father was able to come to his mother's house for dinner.
The main point of Tom Lee's story is that alimony makes it impossible for individuals to bring full closure to their divorce. As long as it is active, there is a relationship of dependency and/or exploitation between the individuals, which makes it very difficult for forgiveness and healing to take place.
In addition to harming the children, there are many other ways in which alimony harms woman. The following articles shows some of them: An End to Alimony Would be Good for Women
Another example of how alimony is bad for marriage is my own personal story. I asked for the divorce after a 14-year marriage. That's a long time together. Despite the many issues I had with the ex, after moving out, I really missed her and the daily family life with children. For several months, I even thought about the possibility of going back. Time away gives people an opportunity to reflect and improve, which may have increased our chances had we tried again. Unfortunately, the animosity that came with alimony litigation, combined with custody disputes (custody is very profitable in Utah), annihilated any possibility of reconciliation.
What's the solution?
Alimony should be re-rehabilitative only, for as short of a period as possible, in order to help meet a person's basic needs.
It should be formula based in order to provide predictability and consistency. This, by itself, would help eliminate most of the unnecessary litigation and all the animosity that comes with it.
It should automatically end at the social security retirement age.
Alimony costs a ton of money in terms of unneeded litigation, however, its greatest cost is how it results in on-going resentment and rivalry between divorcing couples.
The resentment of alimony makes it very difficult for parents to create and maintain a healthy and supportive co-parenting relationship. The children pay the price.
Alimony also prevents woman from taking responsibility for and preparing for their own financial future.
* Source: World Bank
** Source: www.rsmeans.com and bigfuture.collegeboard.org