Paying the Cost To Be The Boss

Recognizing Post-Divorce Obstacles Between You And Your Financial Well-Being

Paying the Cost to be the “Boss” – Richard J. Coffee, II, Litigation Manager, Cordell & Cordell Illinois Offices

When blues legend B.B. King sings about “paying the cost to be the boss”, he is bemoaning the lack of respect (and benefits) he gets for being the provider for the family.    What many men don’t anticipate is that the “cost to be the boss” may continue long after the marriage is over.


The criteria for awarding the wife maintenance (alimony) vary from state to state.  Regardless of the technical requirements in a given state for awarding maintenance, the judge probably has some discretion in determining when the soon-to-be ex-wife needs ongoing support either for the short-term or permanently.  The division of the property may also be influenced by the relative future earning powers of the parties and/or the standard of living during the marriage.  In any such case, it is important to have a qualified attorney or tax professional assess the valuations and tax implications of the proposed support or property divisions.  Certain divisions or payments will provide the wife significantly more after-tax income while substantially decreasing the husband’s income due to his higher tax bracket or penalties.

The wife who does not have full employment during the marriage, whether by expressed agreement or by acquiescence of the husband, may obtain a continuation of support after the divorce to allow the wife time to obtain employment, or permanently if her employability is in doubt.  Alternatively, the wife may be awarded a significantly larger share of the assets on the theory that she will have limited future income and not be able to acquire significant assets after the divorce, while the husband’s earning potential presumably will allow him to recover from the adverse financial impact of the divorce more quickly.  While the employment decisions during the marriage reflect several factors, including the marginal income from employment after deducting childcare and other expenses due to the employment, employment that generates a small amount of income over expenses during the marriage will help support a position that the soon-to-be ex-wife is, or can quickly become, self-sufficient to minimize or avoid possible spousal maintenance.

The wife who has medical or psychological issues at the time of the dissolution of marriage may also be found as needing ongoing support, particularly health insurance or support payments for health care costs.  Invariably, the stress of the divorce process will be cited by the wife as contributing to her current disability.  Some states will hold the husband responsible for the support of the ex-wife due to disability even though she may have had the disability prior to the marriage.  

Challenging that the wife is unable to be employed can be an expensive process of reviewing medical records, independent medical evaluations, and expert testimony.  Undisputed physical disabilities preventing the wife’s employment may allow the wife to obtain disability benefits from Social Security, state programs, retirement programs, or insurance, which benefits may offset or negate the need for the husband to continue supporting her.  More subjective ailments may require documenting the wife’s other activities to demonstrate that she is able to engage in numerous social activities (driving, volunteer work, dancing, sports, etc) which involve the same or more extensive physical or mental activities as any employment that she is qualified to perform, such as retail or office work.   

One common consideration for the court is that of maintaining the wife in a comparable standard of living as during the marriage.  The length of the marriage and roles of the parties during the marriage (child rearing, attending school to obtain job skills, etc.) may be a factor in determining whether the wife should be maintained in a certain lifestyle.  Defining the standard of living may also be a contested issue.  Allowing the wife to run up large debts to acquire non-essential material items, taking regular meals out, trading in cars frequently, and other discretionary expenses will be characterized by the soon-to-be ex-wife as a “luxury” lifestyle that she should be allowed to maintain at the husband’s expense, disregarding that the debts incurred to support these expenditures may remain outstanding or were satisfied only by constant refinancing of the home or loans against retirement accounts.  

In high income and asset marriages there may be a true luxury lifestyle that the wife may otherwise be entitled to continue to enjoy.  In such situations the husband would be well-advised to consult an experienced family law attorney as to pre-marital agreements or other asset division and protection strategies at the outset of the relationship or at the time of acquisition of the increased wealth.

The bottom-line is that the court may impose the marital partnership financial philosophies to the post-dissolution obligations of the parties.   The husband who takes on second jobs and substantial credit card debt or loans on the home and retirement accounts to allow a certain lifestyle during the marriage may be expected to continue to do so to support the ex-wife after the marriage is over.  The husband who chooses to not push the wife to obtain or maintain job skills or employment, or who does not intercede in the wife’s preventable or correctable behavior or medical conditions so as to avoid or limit her future claim of disability, will find that these decisions carry over after the divorce in terms of an on-going spousal support obligation.   

The husband may have few choices to address these possibilities.  Pursuing dissolution of marriage at the first sign of problems may be premature and undesirable.  Marriage or credit counseling may not be effective.  Constant vigilance monitoring credit reports and bank accounts on top of all his other responsibilities can place a significant strain on the husband and the relationship.  A husband’s legal ability to push medical or psychological treatment is limited.  A pre-marital agreement (or in some jurisdictions a post-marital agreement), separate finances, and other practices may help counter assertions as to a high marital standard of living to which the husband should be required to maintain.  

Maintaining an equal financial partnership in the marriage would create a track-record of the wife’s ability to be self-sufficient, but still may not prevent a post-marriage support obligation depending upon the relative finances of the parties.  However, being the “boss” and taking on all the financial responsibilities during the marriage does not assure any “credit” in a divorce proceeding and may end up being used as the measure for your obligations to your ex-wife in the dissolution of the marriage.  



Richard Coffee is a Litigation Manager in the Belleville Illinois office of Cordell & Cordell. He is an experienced divorce attorney whose practice is devoted to domestic litigation. He is licensed in the State of Illinois and is admitted to practice law in the U.S. District Courts for Northern, Central and Southern Illinois.

Mr. Coffee has extensive domestic litigation trial experience representing clients in courts throughout Illinois on all aspects of domestic litigation, including the representation of clients who are current or retired military personnel with issues under the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act and the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act, clients involved in state court jurisdictional disputes due to the relocation of one or both parties from or to Illinois, and clients with government or private pension benefit valuation and division issues. 

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