1. Chapter One – What used to be the norm
A few years ago, one of my Facebook friends consulted with me about his chances of winning an action for reduction of alimony which was previously stipulated in an agreement and over the years was becoming too difficult to bare. Knowing that the chances of such an action aspired to zero in those days, I made it clear to him that it would be a pity to invest even a dime in such an action. My practice has always been to tell my clients the truth even if it was not what they wanted to hear and even if it stood in stark contrast to my commercial interests.
This week we met at a conference where he gave a guest appearance. He reminded me of that meeting from years ago and told me how much it changed his life. At that meeting, I advised him to address the problem of his costly alimony, not by trying to reduce them in court but by working on increasing his income. Addressing the difficulty of paying alimony by increasing income would both solve the problem and benefit him in other aspects of his life. It would be better not to operate with a victim state of mind, I told him. He told me that, equipped with that advice, he was determined to increase his income and had indeed succeeded far beyond his expectations.
2. Chapter Two – The alimony revolution from the female prospective
Years passed and in July 2017, a real revolution took place in family law in Israel when the Supreme Court changed its rules. Henceforth, payment of alimony solely by the father was no longer the norm, as the law moved to recognize payment of alimony in equitable shares by both sides. A new era indeed. For those who wonder what equitable payment of alimony means, it should be clarified that from now on the amount of alimony is determined by a two-stage formula that takes into account the ratio of income between the parents and the ratio of the children's stay with each of their parents. This formula substantially changed the laws on alimony and eased the burden on men.
This week I met with Natalie whom I represent in negotiations with her husband, from whom she seeks divorce after years of mental abuse. Natalie's problem is that despite her skills and potential, she is not financially independent. For years, her husband was the main breadwinner while she worked in a job that enabled her to take care of the children, and so she found herself with a low salary that did not allow her to stand on her own.
The husband, who already had been stubborn and stingy, did not want a divorce, and so did not intend to help Natalie divorce him easily. The amount of alimony payments we were able to reach in long negotiations was therefore much lower than she expected, although it was consistent with the formula according to which alimony payments are calculated in this new age.
When we analyzed the possibilities, we realized that Natalie had two options that were relevant: stay married because divorce was too expensive for her (and not withstanding her mental suffering remain in her comfort zone), or divorce and work on increasing her income significantly (in other words, leave her comfort zone). Natalie was terrified by both possibilities. She very much wanted to end her failed marriage but was afraid she would not survive financially.
Natalie was convinced that the alimony revolution had hit her hard. I actually saw things differently. “When you undergo a severe life crisis that leaves you no choice but to leave your comfort zone, you could turn that crisis into an opportunity if you play your cards right,” I said. “Indeed, you would have to work harder and think creatively, make a plan of action and leave your comfortable and permanent job that clips your wings. You would have to find a more demanding but also more profitable job, but the result would be a life of financial and mental independence, free from a dominant and harsh husband.”
She looked at me and her blue doe eyes were full of tears. “How could you tell me such things, you were never in my shoes.” “Believe me I was,” I whispered to her. “I was there at that point which forces you out of your comfort zone and when I realized that there was no choice and something had to change, I made a plan of action, and took off.”
The next day she called and said she had not slept all night, thinking about her options and how she could move forward. By morning she had a clear plan of action, with financial goals and dates and now she was ready to take off.
The moral of these stories – the darkest hour happens right before dawn. Sometimes being trapped in a black bottomless hole is precisely what drives us to reinvent ourselves and grow.
3 .The alimony revolution – a side effect
They divorced three years ago and since then he has not let her live in peace. He incited their only daughter against her partner and put the 7-year-old into a classic loyalty conflict. When the daughter was at her mother's place, she enjoyed the company of her mother’s partner and felt great affection for him, but when she was with her father it was made clear to her that it was not only forbidden to love her mother’s partner, but that any contact with him was a serious blow to her beloved father. The daughter returned home and made it clear to her mother that she wasn’t planning on staying around her partner and that her mother should kick him out from their home. The girl was brainwashed by the father for months.
Then, shortly after the Supreme Court's aforementioned alimony ruling was published, he filed a joint custody suit. He claimed that the girl wanted to be with him, that she was not happy with her mother and that she hated her partner. The pressure exerted on the mother, both by the child and by the judge, was great and already during the first discussion she had to accept the father's demands against her will and even though she felt that this was not right for her daughter.
Half a year passed and the daughter's state deteriorated, so much so that she asked the school counselor to save her and shared her feelings of suffocation. She told of the difficulty of transferring daily from her mother's home to her father's home where she was subjected to emotional terror by a father who was obsessing over her mother and her partner. Attempts to contact the social worker who knew the family were not successful and the mother felt helpless in the face of the considerable damage to her daughter’s mental state. She didn’t believe she had the mental capacity and means to start legal proceedings again.
That's how it is when one of the parents decides to destroy his or hers kid’s life – it is very hard to stop the parent.
A second before she gave up completely, a messenger knocked on her door and served her with an action to dismiss child support submitted by the father. She arrived tearful to my office, feeling that he was succeeding in his quest to destory her together with the mental state of their daughter and that this action was the last nail in her coffin.
“Let's look at it from another angle,” I suggested. “This action is your lifeline, as well as your daughter's. Since he forced you to go back to court and pay lawyers again, it is only fitting that this time his real motives would be examined. Change your point of view and instead of living in a sense of despair, view it as an opportunity to rescue your daughter. In fact, you should thank him for submitting that action.”
Together with the statement of defense, we filed an action to dismiss the joint custody, to which a letter was attached by the counselor with whom the girl shared her distress. An examination of parental competence imposed on him by the court made it clear exactly what was driving the father (borderline personality disorder) and the extent to which the girl’s psyche and her ability to develop future relationships were damaged.
The moral of the story – each situation has an additional angle. There is always a way out and if you look from the right angle, there is a chance that you would succeed in turning a crisis into an opportunity.