Sunday, September 4, 2011

Kathleen Norris on The Alimony Racket in 1946


ILLUSTRATION CAPTION: She will have her love affairs and her freedom; she will feel herself infinitely superior to the quiet girl who sticks to her bargain.

FULL TEXT: There was a smartly dressed, beautifully groomed young woman on the train with me a few weeks ago; we played gin-rummy together. At Reno she was to leave the train.

"For the usual reason, I suppose?" I said.

"For a divorce," she answered, with a sudden tightening of her lips. And resentfully she added, "I gave him two of the best years of my life and now he'll pay me $500 a month for the rest of his!"

It made me consider afresh what I often have thought of alimony; that alimony is essentially unfair, and that men who make and change laws so easily, are rather stupid that they don’t regularize this one. The childless woman I quote above was about 28. It is possible that "he," whoever he is, will be paying her $6,000 a year for more than 40 years. A quarter of a million dollars for the 24 months she spent in disillusioning him and breaking his heart.

Such a woman, if I judged her rightly, will not re-marry while this golden river is rolling in. She will have her love affairs and her freedom; she will feel herself infinitely superior to the quiet girl who sticks to her bargain, keeps her man happy and secure, and raises children.

And the tragedy of it is that sometimes she will succeed in making the quiet home woman wonder if perhaps the girl who was going to Reno wasn't the smarter, after all.

~ For Three Years Only. ~

Alimony ought to be adjusted first with the safety of the children In view. If there are no children, it should be arranged on a vanishing scale. Five hundred a month for one year, then 300 for perhaps three years. Then stop. It should not be left to smart lawyers to arrange, there should be a special court of domestic adjustment, in which all the factors are considered. If a marriage has existed for anything over 20 years, or if the wife is old and delicate, then certainly there should be no question of the man's duty in supporting her with a monthly check, or making a property settlement that will insure her independence.

But that these frivolous, shallow girls are able to draw large incomes from the men they perhaps neglected, hurt and failed in the first place, is an element that makes for divorce. If she felt that her fat income would only last for a few years, a woman would look about her for some way of making herself useful; she would prepare for the time when she must be self-supporting again.

As it is, there is a certain apartment house in a California city—and of course in all our other cities there are similar ones—that is given over to triumphantly divorced young women. The rents are from $2,000 to $4,500 a year. A beauty parlor and drug-store and a smart little restaurant with a bar occupy the first floor. Upstairs these pretty, idle, confident creatures flit to and fro, entertain men friends, sleep late in the mornings, make their movie and beauty parlor engagements and await the inevitable alimony every month.

Those who have been successful in extorting large alimonies naturally pity the less successful who must struggle along on a few hundred a month. That they are all leeches, fungus growths on the social order, never enters their crisply curled heads.

~ Now Ready to Marry. ~

"Denise will marry Len, now." said one such woman to me thoughtfully. In discussing a friend whose magnificent alimony had had them all jealous for a dozen yean.

"Oh. she's finally decided that she loves him?"

"Well, no, she likes it better this way. just having him take her to dinner and buy her flowers. But you see, Paul is quite sick. He's had a stroke, and they don't think he'll live very long."

Paul was the man paying the thousand-dollar alimony.

When a woman makes a man thoroughly miserable he wants freedom, and his eagerness to get it he rarely splits hairs when making the financial arrangement. She may have been a cold wife, she may have flirted with his friends, wasted his money, neglected his comfort and dignity in every possible way.

But with the weapon of her sex. and the claim of her child, she can wreck all the rest of his life if he dares to want to get free.

In another 10 years he may be ideally married, he may have two or three children to support, but that inexorable check must go every 30 days to pretty carefree Jean, who is flitting about from one pleasure resort to another, driving smart car, playing cards, dancing, taking on such lovers as she fancies.

It seems to me men aren't very smart about alimony.

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~ LIMITED PAYMENTS ~

Most people agree that a divorced woman is entitled to support from her former husband for a considerable time after the separation. The question of how long and how much is generally left to the discretion of the court. There is often a property settlement agreed upon by the attorneys representing the parties.

Where there are children, the ex-wife generally receives an avoidance for their care. If she remarried, the alimony payments terminate.

These wise and just laws, however, have been made the basis for a well known racket — the alimony racket. As Miss Norris says in today's article, many women are living on the bounty of their former husbands in luxurious ease. They will not remarry, for that would end the easy money.

They form a little colony of drones or leeches, giving nothing to anyone, enjoying life without work or worries.

Some women who spent a troubled year or two as wives of wealthy men now have incomes of a thousand dollars a month and more, as long as the men live. This, Miss Norris believes, is all wrong.

[Kathleen Norris, “The Alimony Racket,” syndicated (Bell Syndicate / WNU Features), Le Mars Semi-Weekly Sentinel (Io.), Oct. 11, 1946, p. 13]

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

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