On August 20, 2012, an article titled “Divorce Too Expensive For Poorest Americans, New Study Says” was published in The Huffington Post.
In my opinion, neither this article nor the underlying findings support the conclusion that divorce is too expensive for the poorest Americans.In fact, the article states that “the financial costs and benefits of divorce extend beyond the lawyers and the paperwork. Married couples, especially those with children, get substantial benefits from filing joint tax returns or sharing health care coverage….Financial reasons such as shared real estate, retirement savings and health care coverage appeared to be the primary motivation for staying married by living apart.”
This reality has more to do with what is being denied to same-sex couples in the United States than it does with the proposition that divorce is too expensive for the poorest Americans.What the article is stating is that the poorest Americans are financially better off because of the benefits they receive from the United States government because they are married and which they will lose if they divorce.Such benefits (health care coverage, community property or other such interest in retirement savings accumulated by one of them during the course of the marriage which can be divided upon dissolution, etc.) are not available to same-sex couples because same-sex marriage is not federally recognized, even if they were legally married in a state or country that recognizes such marriages.Why should anyone feel sorry for heterosexual couples that cannot afford to divorce because they would lose benefits that are being denied to others who contribute as much and possibly more to the system in taxes that they pay?Moreover, same-sex couples who can marry or register as domestic partners a state or country that recognizes such marriages suffer financial consequences that similarly situated heterosexual couples do not suffer because same-sex marriage is not federally recognized in this country. Federal benefits law prohibits non-spouses from dividing retirement benefits without penalty. Since same-sex couples are not recognized as spouses under federal law, such couples are unable to divide the community property interest in their retirement accounts without penalty.In fact, "there are 1,138 benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status in Federal law."
The Huffington Post article and the underlying research clearly demonstrate why marriage is not merely a religious institution and why the issue of same-sex marriage has become a civil rights issue.In fact, fault-based divorces were more costly than no-fault divorces because every case had to go to trial in order to establish fault.At least in California, only approximately 3 percent of cases go to trial.Thus, the “no-fault” divorce aspect is a red herring.
A person is no less able to pay support if the couple were to divorce than if the couple is separated – unless the loss of the benefits of being married change the game in that regard.If that is the case, this again supports my conclusion.
If a spouse were unwilling to pay support if the couple were to divorce, how would the results have been any different if we had fault-based divorce, which is more expensive?
Moreover, having grown up in Beverly Hills, I have known many very wealthy couples who had long-term separations in order to avoid the financial stress of going through a divorce.This had less to do with the cost of the divorce itself than it did with dividing up the assets and losing certain other benefits to which they were entitled by virtue of being married.