Whenever we hear about a case of sexual harassment in the news, there is often a divorce happening in the background. The divorce part is just not the centerpiece of the story. I’ve had several situations where the wife’s husband was accused of sexual harassment at the office, and it became a major consideration in our strategy.
For example, I had a case where the husband was a charming, easy-to-love guy. The wife was successful in her own right, and he pulled out all the stops for her. She ended up relocating for him — and a few years later he was asked to resign from his job due to multiple sexual harassment claims.
He ended up going from a high salary to $30,000 a year scraping together various consulting gigs. The wife went from being the less-monied spouse to being the monied spouse. When the marriage broke down, having a financially ruined husband became an urgent problem. His reputation had been tarnished within his industry so much that it was unlikely he would ever get another high-paying position.
My client abhorred the idea of paying support to someone whose career came crashing down because of his own actions. Despite what was morally right, it appeared that the black and white letter of the law was on the husband’s side. According to the statutory maintenance guideline calculations, my client would have had to pay a sizable maintenance to him. The wayward husband’s attorney requested this relief to shake up my client and put her on the defense; he picked up on my client’s (understandable) particular revulsion to paying support — and liked to bring it up to unnerve her. He requested the relief in his pleadings, audaciously filed a motion for support, and sent barrages of correspondences on the subject.
Despite the guidelines, I advised my client that the judge would not rule in the husband’s favor.
That’s because judges look at the “whole package” and exercise several factors afforded to them to deviate from the statute as they deem fit towards a fair and judicious outcome. I expected the judge would be sympathetic to my client because her story was so indicative of the moral character of the husband. Ultimately, we prevailed, obtaining a judgment that freed my client and that she felt great peace about.
One of the judges I’ve admired in my career always emphasized the importance of providing a “whole picture” to the judge. The relevant laws allow for a degree of discretion to the judges, which makes it possible to do things like bypass spousal support guidelines in the interest of fairness. In this case, the whole picture showed a cloud of bad behavior that obscured the one issue that seemed in the husband’s favor.
As ludicrous as it might sound for a wife in this instance to have to pay her husband support, it’s not so simple, for example, the courts typically prefer that a former spouse pay support than that the befallen spouse become a ward on the state. Further, as mentioned, the statutory notice of guideline maintenance, in its most literal form, favors the husband, and seeking maintenance is also often used as a strategic scare and intimidation tactic of the husband’s legal counsel to get the wife to settle on other terms, such as equitable distribution.
Join me next time when I discuss another “Me, Too” divorce, and feel free to send me your story to email@example.com.
Until next time……
Cheryl Stein, Esq.
The Law and Mediation Offices of Cheryl Stein
745 Fifth Avenue, Suite 500
New York, NY 10151
Phone: (646) 884-2324