Why Does the State Control Divorce?

The state favors marriage, because this systematizes support for its citizens. This article is written based on Michigan law, however, many states are similar. When you marry someone, the state grants you a license to do so. This gives you certain privileges, such as tax savings, rights to inherit from your spouse, and rights to their property. The state also imposes a lot of laws that obligate you to support your spouse and your children, if and when you have them. In general, it is believed that married couples manage better financially than single people.

The state also has a social safety net for people who cannot support themselves and their children. Some call it welfare. Your state wants to keep the number of individuals who must rely on food stamps, Medicaid, assistance checks and other forms of welfare as low as possible. To do this, they impose laws on divorcing people that require them to continue to pay the support that is required while they are married to avoid having children or an unemployed spouse or low-income wage-earning spouse go on some form of public assistance.

The forms of support with which most people are acquainted are:

  1. Child support. This consists of a monthly support payment that includes:
  2. a) Base support - a payment of cash that can be used for children’s food, clothing, school supplies and other basic needs. It can also be applied to the expenses of providing housing for children and providing them with transportation. This is based on the relative income of each parent and the amount of time that the children spend with each parent.
  3. b) Child care - a sharing of the child care expenses of the children, usually until they reach age 12, in proportion to the parents’ incomes.
  4. c) Health insurance premium - a sharing of the cost for health insurance of the children in proportion to the parents’ incomes.
  5. d) Uninsured health care expenses -a sharing of the cost for uninsured health care expenses of the children in proportion to the parents’ incomes.

Both parents are required to support the children. However, the higher wage earner will pay the lower wage earner for these expenses, unless the couple works out a different plan for meeting them.

  1. Spousal support or alimony. This consists of a monthly support payment when there is a disparity in income between the two spouses. These days, even stay-at-home spouses are required to work to support themselves, unless they are disabled or caring for a severely disabled child. Except in very long-term marriages, 25 years or longer, spousal support in generally time limited to help the lower wage earning spouse to get established and increase his or her earning ability.
  2. Property. The property that the couple purchases, saves or receives during the marriage is divided. There are two systems of doing so. Community property is common in the western United States and equitable distribution is common in the eastern United States. In general, marital property is divided about equally, even if one spouse was the primary wage earner and accounted for most or all of the couple’s income.

Coming to grips with the emotions in a divorce often causes people to resist paying child or spousal support or sharing the property. Common arguments that divorce lawyers hear run like this.

  1. She wanted the divorce. I shouldn’t have to pay spousal support.

Response: This may be true in a short-term marriage. However in a longer term marriage or in the event of a large difference in incomes, there will be at least short term spousal support to permit your spouse to adapt to supporting him or herself.

Remember the state wants to keep your spouse off welfare.

  1. I can take the children and care for them. I shouldn’t have to pay child support.

Response: Studies show that children grow into happy, healthy adults when they have a positive relationship with both parents. In Michigan, a statute requires the judge to fashion parenting time that promotes a strong, healthy relationship between the children and both parents. Generally, unless one parent is abusive or incapable of caring for the children, the primary care provider during the marriage will have the children at least 50% of the time. If that means that care provider needs child support, he/she will receive it.

  1. I worked long hours during the marriage to permit my family to have the possessions that we accumulated. I shouldn’t have to share these with my spouse.

Response: In marriage, it is presumed that both parties contribute equally to the work to be done. For example, in the traditional marriage one worked outside the home and the other worked inside the home and cared for the household and child rearing duties. Judges assume, in Michigan, that if one party felt there was a gross inequity, that spouse would have divorced the other. By staying married, each spouse indicated that they were satisfied with the division of labor. Property is generally divided about equally to reflect this belief.

I frequently hear that my clients feel it is unfair to them personally to have to pay the spouse/former spouse, especially when the other person engages in mean, under-handed behavior, such as making unfounded allegations against my client. It is important to remember as you go through the divorce, that this is not personal to you.

The state has devised a system for the support of the lower wage earning spouse and for the children so that the state doesn’t have to support your spouse or your children when they are with your spouse. The state’s interest overrides your personal sense of outrage at the behavior engaged in by your spouse, though the judge can adjust the amount of property and support for outrageous behaviors. Please remember that your judge may also hear murder and other serious criminal cases. Their sense of “outrageous behavior” will be jaded.

In short, do not throw good money after bad attempting to get a better settlement or avoid paying support because you think your personal sense of fairness will trump the state system of keeping members of your family from receiving state assistance.

Once the emotions settle down, you will realize that you want your children to have a similar living experience when they are with your former spouse as they have when living with you. Your support and property division make that possible. It is hoped that for your spouse, once they get over the fear of “losing their children,” will stop the allegations and appreciate the parenting strengths you have. It is also hoped that your spouse will become more assured of being able to manage financially after the divorce, which will help restore a more civilized relationship between you.

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