Sunday, September 4, 2011

Mrs. Rose Fox vs. The Alimony Racket - 1934


FULL TEXT: The Count of Monte Cristo, forgotten alike by enemies, and friends, and left to die in the dungeons of the Chateau d’If  – was very little worse off than some of the alimony slaves who are dragging out a monotonous existence, in the debtor prisons of New York.

Gotham’s famous Alimony Club is ever increasing to membership, in fact, is growing at such a rapid rate that something has to be done about it. A woman proposes to do the doing.

What is this Alimony Club? It is an organization made up of men who have served time In New York jails for failing or refusing to pay alimony to their wives. It had its beginning in the famous old Ludlow Street Jail, which in its day housed such famous personalities as “Boss” Tweed, Harry K. Thaw and scores of others.

~ Jail Became Palace ~

TWEED, during his incarceration for his connection with political graft, made the old jail a real club by the installment of fine furniture, modern kitchens and all the niceties that one would expect to find in a well appointed Clubhouse. In fact, the place was so attractive that many “alimoners” preferred its confines and the life they lived there to meeting the demands for alimony that the courts had impounded against their incomes.

These alimony men founded a club of their own, and many of them still retain membership in it, although they long since have been released from jail. They maintain as a principle that the payment of alimony in most cases is a racket. And it is for the purpose of breaking up this racket that they are carrying on.

Umberto Politano, a bricklayer, holds the present long-distance record for alimony incarceration. He served thirty-one months in the Raymond Street Jail. Brooklyn, for refusing to pay alimony to his wife, and was released only a short time ago when it was discovered that he had been imprisoned on a legal technicality. But he may be back in jail almost any time. Michele Galioto, a quiet little Italian, is another who hopes the Alimony Club succeeds in bringing about a change in the law which says a man must pay or go to jail in alimony cases. Galioto once had a good job, but marital difficulties arose and he separated from his wife after a weekly allowance was ordered by the Court. Then economic misfortune befell him and his wages were reduced.

The Court also reduced the alimony and Michele was able to meet these payments. Recently he lost his job and now he faces jail again because he cannot find another job and cannot meet the payments.

Here is a paradox. The Alimony Club has enlisted in its membership a woman who is not and never has been an alimony payer. She is interested in social problems, and the work the Alimony Club is doing so interests her that she has been made a member. She is Mrs. Rose Fox, and she is militant.


~ Why She Joined Club ~

AS SHE sat in her New York apartment the other day, she explained her reasons for Joining the Alimony Club. “I believe in the law advocating an equalization of the burden of alimony.” she said. “Personally I am opposed to the payment of any alimony at all. It is my belief that if the hope of obtaining alimony and a comfortable income for life without raising a band were removed from many women, there would be fewer divorces and the motive for many a marriage and the ensuing divorce would be removed.

“I joined this club primarily because I wanted to see justice done, and I feel that very often a woman can attack her own sex with more effect than can a man. I am intensely against the ‘woman chiseler’ who marries not for a home and a husband, but for alimony and a good time at some decent man’s expense.”

I see no just reason why women shouldn’t pay alimony if the man is destitute and the woman is financially able to pay it. While I oppose alimony payment by the man where the woman is able to earn her own living and the care of the children is assured. I have no sympathy for the man who is deliberately trying to evade his responsibilities and favor his being compelled to support his wife when she is unable to do so herself.

Mrs. Fox is happily married and her chief task has been that of making a home. She has never been in any jail for alimony dodging and never expects to be, so her attitude is entirely altruistic and academic.

This club advocates an oral hearing before a judge and jury as being the surest cure for the alimony evil, the logic of this innovation being that such a hearing would immediately disclose the true ability of the man to support his wife and children, if there are any,” she said.

“At present the law encourages star chamber proceedings, and the leniency with which some Judges appear to view this archaic method of judicial procedure would lead the unprejudiced observer to believe that perhaps Justice is not quite as blind as had been popularly supposed.

Justice Salvatore A. Cotillo, of the New York Supreme Court, in his recommendation to the Appellate Division, advocated recently the establishment of a separate matrimonial court to minimize the alimony evil. In his report he said in part:

“Although the practice of imprisoning for debt long has been abolished in progressive communities, this procedure still prevails in matrimonial actions where the husband is in arrears in the payment of alimony. The whole situation has developed into what may fairly be classified, to use the vernacular, as a ‘racket,’ concocted by the wife to extract money from her husband or by an unscrupulous attorney to get what he can in counsel fees.”

In New York State a woman can keep a man in jail indefinitely if she has the wish to do so. As fast as he is released from one jail she eta hare him rearrested and put in another. The man has got to die or pay up to escape this debt. Once in jail, even should he have evidence on which he could bring suit for divorce on statutory grounds, he could not proceed against his wife until counsel fees awarded her attorney have been paid, and even should he win a suit he might still have to pay alimony, and he stays in jail until his wife tires of the sport.

When haled into court by his wife he has no opportunity to present his case or show what his financial condition may be; the Judge decides what he can pay on affidavits submitted – often by his enemies –  and he must find the money or go to jail for contempt. The awarding of $35 a week to the wife of a newsboy who was actually making $12 is a case in point.
~ Vindictive Wife ~

BUT, to get back to the case of Politano, the long-distance “alimoner.”

Politano was ordered to pay $10 a week when he first appeared in court, because he had a good job. When he lost his job and began to fall behind the alimony was increased to $12, a riddle of justice. Now he is ordered to pay $5 a week, but being out of a job he can pay nothing;’ and so may be back in jail again.

The largest amount he can remember paying any one at one time was to his wife’s lawyer.

He told me his wife had hired five lawyers at different times during his hectic legal battles with her and had spent $1500 to keep him in jail, a sizable amount he seemed rather proud of. The only thing about it was the tiresomeness of jail, nothing to do and no place to go.

The pathos of the alimony racket seems to be epitomized in the case of Michele Galioto. He was educated at the University of Palermo, Italy. He has three daughters—Severina, Rose and Raphael. He is an engraver by trade and specializes in the chasing of bronze. Lately he executed a medallion which was presented to Mayor La Guardia by the Two Pals Association.

He has worked for one firm as an engraver and chaser for more than sixteen years, but lost his job when he had his last losing battle with the alimony racket and spent three weeks in jail. He seemed rather dubious about getting the job back. “But maybe I catch another one,” he said hopefully.

~ Goes Back to Jail ~

HE WAS married twenty-two years ago, and he and his wife lived together for nine years. Then there was a misunderstanding and a separation. In 1921 she started legal action and was awarded $15 a week and the custody of the three girls. Three weeks afterward an organization recommended that the children go with the father, and they have been with him ever since. He placed them in a school where they received a good education, with what he thought was the understanding that the $13.75 a week he paid the school was to be an offset against the alimony the court had awarded. This was not the case, however, for the wife appeared in court later, claiming several thousand dollars in overdue alimony and made him pay a substantial amount. A similar action was brought by her again in 1930 with the same result.

In February of this year she repeated again, but due to the stress of the times, a curtailed income and the fact that the girls were now grown, with consequently more expensive needs, he was unable to comply with her demands for another settlement on his back alimony indebtedness, and thereupon was thrown into the New York County Jail.

It is particularly cases of this kind that have interested Mrs. Fox and caused her to become the first woman member of the Alimony Club.

[Church, Douglas, "Open New War on the Alimony Racket: Woman Joins Club and Will Lead Fight for Change in Laws Which Now Send Men to Jail Because They Cannot Pay Allowances to Separated Wives,” Lincoln Star (Ne.), May 6, 1934, magazine section]

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For more revelations of this suppressed history, see The Alimony Racket: Checklist of Posts

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