Edmonton Sun

May 13, 2001

Coming from Venus can be a costly trip, fellas

By MINDELLE JACOBS -- Edmonton Sun

Psst! Hey girls, can we have a chat? About the pros and cons of marriage and what you'll do if, God forbid, it all goes down the toilet?

Just asking, you see, because I figure there are a lot of guys out there who'd like to know if you're going to take them to the cleaners.

Yes, I know, I wrote about divorce and separation agreements and judicial intervention and how a deal isn't really a deal last week.

But the issue's been on my mind for days (relax dear, I'm not trying to tell you something) and I figure women should put their cards on the table so men know where they stand.

From the e-mails I've received since I wrote about Eric and Linda Miglin's divorce and her decision to go after him for alimony even though she expressly agreed not to, it's quite clear men really do think women are from Venus.

For a start, let's assume this doesn't apply to wives who either work full time or who don't have children.

It's pretty hard to make an argument for spousal support after a split-up if you've been self-sufficient all along.

But for the thousands of women who have part-time jobs or don't work outside the home because of child-rearing responsibilities, it's another story.

At some point, presumably, all those couples sat down and decided the woman would make the financial and career sacrifices to run the home and the man would continue along on his trajectory of success in the working world.

It's all about trade-offs. The women raise the kids, cook, clean, drive the children to soccer, pick up the drycleaning and whip up marvellous meals when their husbands bring business associates home for dinner.

In return for regular maid service, the men battle rush hour or the dreaded commute, ornery bosses who demand longer hours and better productivity, backbiting co-workers and the stress of possible layoffs in order to support their families.

But let's cut to the chase. What men want to know is if women want indefinite payback, in the event of divorce, for voluntarily agreeing to put their careers and future earning capacity at risk for the sake of the children.

What do you say, gals? If your marriage goes down the tubes, is it up to your husband to compensate you for all those lost earning years?

If you're 45 and divorced with rusty job skills and a computer-savvy 25-year-old just got that position you wanted, is it up to your ex-husband to support you forever even though you both agreed on the traditional division of labour during your marriage?

If so, how is your ex-husband to be compensated for the lost time with the kids, all those wasted hours on freeways, his work-related angina and the fear that the important things in life - family and friends - passed him by while he was in the rat race?

There was a time, under the 1968 Divorce Act, when a deal was a deal as far as separation agreements were concerned.

As set down by the Supreme Court of Canada, judges applied the "clean break" theory. Self-sufficiency was the primary objective.

Spousal support agreements could only be amended if the ex-spouse seeking more support suffered a radical, unforeseen change in circumstances connected to the marriage.

If that threshold was not met, it was the duty of the state, not a former spouse, to provide alimony.

The idea was that divorced spouses were to take responsibility for their own lives.

That all fell by the wayside when the Divorce Act was changed in 1985.

Now the emphasis is on economic equity. And that's why the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled last month that Eric Miglin must support his ex-wife, Linda, indefinitely, although she had initially waived spousal support.

For the most part, it is women who suffer financially from divorce and their needs must be met somehow.

Since the courts have declared it's not the state's role, that responsibility falls upon former spouses - primarily men.

Perhaps we will see a surge in the number of stay-at-home dads.

Mindelle can be reached by e-mail at mjacobs@edm.sunpub.com.
Letters to the editor should be sent to letters@edm.sunpub.com.

Copyright © 2001, Canoe Limited Partnership.