Sunday, September 4, 2011

An Alimony Racket Booby Trap - 1909

FULL TEXT: Chicago. May 11. – Divorced men received a shock from Judge Farlin Q. Ball yesterday that caused not a few of them to seek the advice of lawyers at once.

Although divorced fifty years, was the purport of the bombshell exploded by the jurist, and although no mention of alimony was made in the decree, no divorced man is safe from payment of that peculiarly irksome obligation so long as his former wife lives and fails to remarry.

Judge Ball calmly announced from the bench that, while a decree of divorce ended the other marital obligations, the duty of a husband to support his wife and her right to demand and receive such support was not thereby ended. He further held that only the death of one of the parties, remarriage of the woman or a stipulated sum of money accepted by her in lieu of alimony at the time of obtaining her divorce could prevent the divorced wife from demanding alimony at any time she felt the need of such support, and the court felt her former husband was able to render such.

~ Ruling as Interpreted. ~

In other words – that is, in plain American language – a wife who obtained a divorce twenty-five years ago, or even fifty, according to Judge Ball, can bob up unexpectedly and, having discovered that her former spouse has become wealthy or merely well fixed, may go into court and successfully demand her “rights.”

That is, of course, providing she hasn’t married in the meantime or did not accept a stipulated alimony when she was divorced.

Even though the divorced husband has married again, become the father of ten children, and may be even grandfather, the former wife’s rights to alimony are not thereby hampered or annulled in any way.


Furthermore, Judge Ball declared that his novel decision was backed up by a ruling of a Pennsylvania court, made many years ago, and by one other decision of more recent date. Several leading attorneys, when questioned about the decision, declared it was good law and had been since the days of Blackstone.

~ Case Raising the Point. ~

Judge Ball rendered his decision in the case of Mary N. Cobb vs. William H. Cobb. Mrs. Cobb was divorced from her husband on June 13, 1901, on charges of infidelity, which her husband admitted. The decree of divorce was silent as to alimony. She set up the facts that she had never remarried and that her income as a bookkeeper was insufficient for her needs.

Although the couple had been divorced eight years, Judge Ball, after a few days’ study of the case, ordered that Mrs. Cobb be paid alimony. He did not fix the amounts to be paid, leaving this for agreement between counsel.

“The question before the court,” the decision reads, “is whether it has power, on the petition filed in the original cause, to allow alimony to a wife subsequent to the term in which the decree of divorce was entered, where the bill and decree each is silent in regard to alimony.

~ Gist of the Ruling. ~

“A proceeding for divorce is sui generis. It is the duty of the husband to support his wife in a manner commensurate with his means during the life of both parties. The death of either end the liability. The decree of divorce ends the other marital obligations, but the duty of the husband to support his wife, and her right to demand and receive such support is not thereby ended. Hence upon principle, if at any time, after the final decree and within the lives of both parties, the wife becomes in actual need of such support and a husband is able to contribute it, alimony should be awarded her.

“The principle is subject to the limitation that, if prior to or at the time of the decree the question of alimony was raised and decided against the wife, it cannot again be brought forward: the maxim of res judicata forbids it.

“The petition shows sufficient ground for not asking alimony in the decree by alleging  that at the same time the defendant had no means nor property. The changed circumstances now justify her in asking relief.”

[Indexed as: “Gives Men Who Are Divorced Cold Shivers – Chicago Jurist Declares Alimony is Due in All Cases,” Fort Wayne Sentinel (Ind.), May 11, 1909, p. 4]


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


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