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Never! I don’t want his money!

Posted: January 10, 2011
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“I dont want to get anything that has got to do with him. I certainly don’t want his money.” Ever heard women say this at the time of their divorces? I am working, make enough to live and live well and I certainly don’t need his money when we are separating. The question of alimony has always raised dilemmas in the minds of “working independent women” isn’t it?

Consider a couple, where both are working in corporate jobs. If they separate, would you consider the woman eligible for alimony? In most cases, the man would be at a higher salary – either because the woman has given up some years of her career for rearing her kids or because the man, being older than her is at a different phase of his career and therefore making more money or essentially because the woman is possibly not as qualified as the man is (graduate vs MBA kinds?) If they split, would you consider that the woman is eligible for alimony?

Let me be frank! I did think, she does not deserve an alimony. Even now, I am just disturbed with that thought rather than completely convinced by it and hence sharing it here. If she was earning enough for herself to live her life, why should she have a share in his ‘hard earned’ money was the first question that came to my mind, till I was told the following:

Even when the husband and wife are doing corporate jobs, chances are that a large part of the household responsibility lies with the woman. Chances are that she would have to take leave more often than her husband when their child falls sick, or go early to pick the child up and so on. Chances are she may have less time to work from home in the evening because she has to cook or ensure that some household responsiblities are fulfilled. Chances are that the husband has a lot of responsibilties of being the ‘provider’ and that he is pressurised to work late and earn for his wife, children and parents, making him a little less available for the other chores of the house. This in many organisations may translate into many women being ‘average’  but solid performers and men being the stars which in turn would translate into promotions and perks differently. Considering that the society is designed this way, and with enough statistics to prove, it’s a known fact that less number of women earn the same salaries as their husbands do.

Most families have tuned themselves into understanding this design of the society. In many relationships, men and women respect each other for these differential roles too. All is well, till the relationship is fine, too. However, what happens when they split?

Today, many women’s consciousness have been raised enough to include their names in the house that the couple buy for themselves. I am not sure of the rest of the assets and hidden wealth that a man seems to have raised for himself, let’s say from a corporate job. I am not implying that men are slimy people who seem to hoard wealth in their own name with no consideration for their wives. What I mean is, systems are structured such that the man ends up getting higher salaries, higher provident funds, higher tax savings, mutual funds because it would have been convenient to do it so, whenever they do it. However at the time of alimony discussion, we are astounded at even the mention of women having a share of all that, isn’t it?

Like myself, I think, many of us seem to very conveniently forget the “unseen” or “uncalculated” work that women put into the marriage  which in turn would have made it convenient for the men to work as “hard” in their jobs. Considering that having children is most often a mutual decision, the roles that men and women play today are different but vital. Each does have the pressure of meeting the society’s expectation of being the nurturer and the provider, however much stereotyped it is. Therefore, is it unfair, then to demand, that at the time of a split, everything the couple has, is to be shared equally, assuming they gave equally to the marriage?

There are jokes on how the American women seem to be making wealth out of divorces from their rich husbands. Frankly, I have also laughed at many of them. I am now ashamed at how even I did not “value” the contribution that the woman put into a marriage. Well, I did value it in blog posts and discussions but when it came to the real things like asset sharing, alimony, property division, my mind worked quite conventionally and decided that the woman possibly did not “deserve” even half of what the man owned  in the marriage. Another thing that people like me seem to forget is that differences  in economics between men and women start skewing much after their middle ages, because of the differences in roles and the glass ceiling. Therefore what I see of my life at 29 need not necessarily  be true of my life at 45. Well, every divorce also needs to take this bigger picture into consideration.

The friend who tried to get me to see this point of view, was obviously pained at what she heard me say initially. When working women say, “I don’t want his money”, mostly it is often considered as the tone of an independent woman in her own head, including mine. In reality, it is a giving up of one’s rights. Rights, that many women, movements and feminists have fought for years for our sake. But ‘independent women’ are too scared and tired to even try and exercise those rights. This friend  says and I paraphrase, “Women will not ask for their rightful share. Having been heavily socialised into thinking that their contribution does not value much, they think they don’t deserve so much. First of all, they would not talk about it, and even if they did, they will hear from a million other spaces that those expectations are misplaced. The only support that any woman can get is from her friends, who can challenge her misconstrued notion of independence. This is one favour we can do to our women friends to not let them suffer. Tell them not to relinquish their hard earned rights. Tell them they deserve every bit of it”.

ps: The attempt is not to demonise men or to say that they consciously build in the differences in economics. However, we cannot shy away from the fact that at the end of the day, the systems ensure that the men are certainly at a much better economic situation than their wives in most cases. If that were the case, considering that many women would not have the same opportunities as he would have in the future, what stops him from sharing his assets in half? Atleast let us not make fun of those who did so!

Preethi is currently pursuing her Graduate Studies in Sociology in Purdue University in the US.

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