Sunday, September 4, 2011

Kathleen Norris on The Alimony Racket in 1937


Advice column: Excerpt

~ The Alimony Racket. ~

Today's second letter is from a man, a Montreal lawyer. He was married to the wrong woman for four years; she was extravagant, cold, shallow, undomestic in every way, and finally indulged in so many light love affairs, yet without involving herself in any actionable manner, that he consented to a divorce. Her alimony is about S250 a month.

Now he has married again and has three small children. His expenses are heavy, and that three thousand a year is a great drain.

"Is it fair or civilized that I should go on paying to the end of my life for four unhappy years, in which my partner never lived up to any of her promises or obligations?" he asks. "Ida is a healthy woman of thirty-two, intelligent and popular. She goes about everywhere, has endless affairs, appears perfectly content.

At the time of our divorce I was so unhappy that I would have consented to almost any arrangement, but I supposed of course she would marry again. But when my sister, who still sees her occasionally, asked her good-naturedly why she did not marry, she answered with a gleeful laugh,

'Why should I?'

"We live comfortably enough if very simply. My wife has an elderly woman in as general servant.

But I am obliged to deny her and the babies many little pleasures that otherwise I could afford, just so that I may continue to support a woman who has repeatedly asserted that she never cared for me. Is this civilization or justice? Is it the same in your country? Do you know any solution?  My sister in Bridgeport sends me your articles; I will be deeply grateful for your opinion. "DAVID."

My dear David: Many years ago I expressed the opinion that intelligent men could easily establish a diminishing alimony law, by which a woman who was still young and healthy would be paid something like five hundred a month for one year, three hundred for another year, and one hundred for the following three years. And then no more."

~ Conditions Worse In U. S. ~

You are a lawyer; you could at least set such a movement in motion. You ask me if conditions are the same in my country. Indeed they are, and worse. I know of two Reno marriages, both second marriages, in which before taking their vows the brides stipulated exactly what provision must be made should there be another failure.

I know three men who are paying three women apiece—nine women! — large alimony. In one case, that of a New York newspaper man, payment has been going on for more than thirty years.

The woman lives in France, has had various lovers; now is supporting a charming man eighteen years her junior, but has steadily refused the marriage that would stop that eight thousand a year.

The alimony racket is a definite livelihood for thousands of women. And until men do something about it it will flourish like a green bay tree. And a third letter from Retta, who has three children, boys of fourteen and ten, and a girl of seventeen. Her perplexity arises from the fact that their household expenses are too high, and yet because of neighborhood, schools, friends, conveniences she feels she ought to carry on the city apartment for a few more years. The children constantly quarrel with the father, and he has now threatened to go out to live in the small mill town where he works, and expects his wife to accompany him. She is torn between loyalty to them and to him; she adores her children.

"But until he became so angry and worried and restless, not sleeping or eating as he should," she writes, "Norman was a good father and a kind husband. I feel myself partly to blame for the situation, for naturally the children love me, and I am the one to arrange that they shall have the pleasures, clothes, outings they so love. Their father is always the critic and disciplinarian.

If I went out to Milltown I would give up much that makes life pleasant here, such as telephone, refrigerator, electric appliances and so on. The factory houses are comfortable enough, but ugly and bare. I could, however, save money, as expenses would be cut in half.

"My mother would gladly keep my daughter from Monday to Friday, so that she could finish her high school term. The boys would have to go to the Milltown school, a prospect that they dislike. As all their friends are here. Will you advise me?''

My advice, my dear Retta, is for you to unite your life to your husband's life, as you promised to do, for better or worse. Once finances are adjusted, bills paid, and his I anxieties ended, he will return to his normal good nature and content.

Lay down the law firmly that dad is never to be criticized, and that unless the three children accept home life on his terms with sweetness and cooperation, they may expect to be severely treated

In a very few years the' children will be grown and gone. Their ideas of money, economy, gratitude, human values are all being twisted now by the fact that you are trying to give them more luxuries than you can afford. This is not just to them or to you.

Bring them down to earth with a good healthy bump. They'll be angry and dissatisfied: but I gather that despite all you can do they are dissatisfied now. They're only children, after all, and you've let them get the whip hand. For all your sakes walk roughshod over their whining and protesting, and try to form their characters on a little firmer basis while yet there is time.

[Norris, Kathleen (advice column), “The Alimony Racket,” syndicated (Bell Syndicate), Sunday Journal and Star (Lincoln,  Ne.), Dec. 5, 1937]

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

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