May 21, 2016 • By Dennis Beaver
Once upon a time in a small Northern California town that reminds you of “Back to the Future,” lived two high school sweethearts, Ali and Mike. After graduation they married, promptly had two children, now grown and starting families of their own.
54 percent of “high school sweetheart” marriages fail within 10 years. But they just celebrated, “26 years of happy married life, in fact, we have known Mike since he was a young boy, and all of us have a great relationship,” Ali’s father wrote.
“She has always supported Mike’s desire to advance in his career. With overtime, he earns over $130,000 a year. Ali runs her own part-time book-keeping business, and makes around $25,000,” her father explained.
“Had a great relationship” would have been a better choice of words, as “Last Monday, Mike informed Ali that he no longer wants to be married, claiming that there is no one else and that she’s not the problem.”
“For the past two years he has been distant,” Ali explained, and when asked what reason Mike gave for not wanting to be married, stated, “He says that he wants to come and go as he pleases without being tied down. But he always did — dirt bike riding with friends, we camped, hiked, he worked in his garage — he always had complete freedom and we even bought a camper.”
After close to 30 years of married life — in a good marriage — loving husbands don’t want more freedom, unless it is freedom from this wife.
“He was unfaithful before, right?”
“Yes, long ago, right after we were married, but how could you possibly know that?
“By spending 25 years in divorce court.”
This couple are still living in the same house which is not a healthy situation, emotionally, physically and from a financial perspective. If Mike has any bully tendencies, Ali is at risk. He needs to leave the home immediately.
Living under the same roof with Mr. I Betrayed You — despite his denial — is an invitation to more than an ulcer, especially when, “Yesterday, he did something very strange. Normally, I buy his underwear, on sale, but he went out and purchased designer underwear and cologne, and he never wears cologne!”
I rest my case as to Mike’s concept of marital fidelity, yet that is the least of Ali’s concerns.
She now must protect herself financially, especially when Mike announced, “Sure, I will help you get on your feet with a few hundred dollars each month for a little while.”
Clearly, Mr. Faithful didn’t do his homework.
Probably not having a clue at just how expensive divorce is when you are in a long-term marriage, Mike’s new girlfriend is not going to be a happy camper when she realizes that spousal support (alimony) payments will likely be from $28,000 to $35,000 a year. That means sweetie pie will have much less of Mike’s money to spend than she figured.
Husbands earning Mike’s level of income do not have the luxury of saying Adios to wife without “Maintaining the standard of living established during the marriage,” as Family Code Section 4320 sets out. The longer the marriage, the longer support will typically be ordered.
Lawyers are often asked by panicky clients leaving a long marriage if they could be ordered to pay lifetime support. Unless the parties agree otherwise, courts generally retain jurisdiction over support with marriages over ten years duration.
As it seems unlikely Ali will ever have an earning capacity remotely close to that of Mike, he should expect automatic deductions from his paychecks for a long time to come. When Mike awakens from his “I Want to be Free” fog, Ali is going to face great pressure to reduce the time of alimony payments. If she agrees, that would be a monumental mistake.
Ali needs to immediately photocopy all their financial information, including home, bank accounts, automobiles, insurance — everything. It should be safely stored away from the family residence, even if Mike moves out. She also needs to change the locks.
Especially important are life insurance and retirement documents, verifying that she is listed as the beneficiary.
Finally, Ali must retain her own lawyer, making no decisions and taking no actions with Mike unless she runs it first by counsel.
Studying a menu is one thing. Placing an extra-large order of Forbidden Fruit is something far different. The touch, the scent, the feeling, so enticing, new, different, just delicious. Yet some contain pits, precisely what husband Mike will soon feel, the pits.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.