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Is alimony morally appropriate in an Objectivist context?

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icosahedron
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My thought problem is this:

1) Fred and Jane decide to divorce

2) Fred is employed in his personal business, which shows good potential, but makes very little income after expenses so far

3) Jane is recently unemployed, but has the capacity to earn a great deal of income if she chooses

4) Equitable distribution law applies, and is interpreted to mean that Fred should get alimony from Jane in an amount based on what Jane COULD MAKE, should she choose to work for someone else

5) But Jane is getting older and has some ideas for a business she wants to pursue (finally!), after slaving away for more than a decade working for other people's goals. So, Jane does not want to just take another high-paying but unsatisfying job.

6) Now, if Jane decides to follow her dream (which will eventually be quite lucrative, Jane is not an idiot and knows how to earn, can produce value for others that they would pay handsomely for), and for some time has not enough income to cover the alimony, what happens?

7) If Jane can be incarcerated or otherwise forced to work at a job not of her choice, is that not involuntary servitude?

I claim that this example puts alimony laws on VERY SHAKY moral ground.

What do you think?

- ico

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First point:

A marriage is a legally binding contract made between two parties which establishes them as a life-long partnership (barring any prenup). This means that your Jane made promises to Fred, and Fred made promises to Jane, and now these promises are being released.

Second point:

In cases where mutual agreement to separate is the case, such as my own divorce from 2002, the two parties involved can reach their own agreement with regard to disposition of the assets, if they so are willing and able. Judicial resolution is only required when the two parties cannot reach an agreement on their own.

Third point:

Generally speaking (specifics vary from state to state), legally, Jane cannot be forced to work. Nor, if Jane works, can Jane's income be garnished to the point where she cannot survive. She also cannot bankrupt any binding alimony. Therefore if she works but is unable to make her alimony payments, she simply accrues debt which will be entailed upon her or upon her estate at her demise.

Fourth point:

Legal mechanisms exist by which Jane can create a business which is not bound to her alimony obligations. Her ownership of said business would be an asset, but being the owner she can set her own personal income so that most money goes into building the business until it grows to a point where she can take enough income to discharge her debt.

Conclusion:

It's likely in Jane's best interests to mutually agree to an asset distribution in which she gives up more now but frees her from higher alimony, but even if such requirements end up in place due to her or Fred's inability to agree, she can still start a business, grow it, and eventually pay off her debt.

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I claim that this example puts alimony laws on VERY SHAKY moral ground.

How do you come to this conclusion? Certainly every divorce situation isn't like the one you describe. There are plenty of long-term marriages where one spouse is the primary bread-winner and the other stays at home and/or raises children, etc... In those situations, in order for there to be an equitable resolution of the marriage, alimony would be quite moral. I believe that most states give enough discretion to judges in divorce matters to weigh all of the facts and circumstances and to then come up with an equitable settlement. That doesn't sound like shaky moral ground to me.

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  • 2 weeks later...

How do you come to this conclusion? Certainly every divorce situation isn't like the one you describe. There are plenty of long-term marriages where one spouse is the primary bread-winner and the other stays at home and/or raises children, etc... In those situations, in order for there to be an equitable resolution of the marriage, alimony would be quite moral. I believe that most states give enough discretion to judges in divorce matters to weigh all of the facts and circumstances and to then come up with an equitable settlement. That doesn't sound like shaky moral ground to me.

Well, no. I think each party needs to think ahead, long term. As Ayn points out, homemaker is a perfectly good profession, but the person choosing it ought to also look to their long term viability.

So, what I think is the problem here is, fundamentally, the notion of joint ownership (an oxymoron when closely examined). If there were no such think as joint ownership then division of assets would be trivial and maintenance moot.

Basically, the homemaker needs to get the breadwinner to put some bread in the homemaker's account -- or else, maybe, stop doing the homemaker job, like any rational employee might?

- ico

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Well, no. I think each party needs to think ahead, long term. As Ayn points out, homemaker is a perfectly good profession, but the person choosing it ought to also look to their long term viability.

So, what I think is the problem here is, fundamentally, the notion of joint ownership (an oxymoron when closely examined). If there were no such think as joint ownership then division of assets would be trivial and maintenance moot.

So is it your position that two or more people cannot voluntarily choose to share equally in ownership of and the benefit from owning property?

How do you propose to stop my wife and I from doing so?

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So, what I think is the problem here is, fundamentally, the notion of joint ownership (an oxymoron when closely examined). If there were no such think as joint ownership then division of assets would be trivial and maintenance moot.

I assume you're aware of the concept of a "partnership". Are partnerships immoral?

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I assume you're aware of the concept of a "partnership". Are partnerships immoral?

I am aware of the concept "partnership", which to me means "agreement to act in concert to mutual benefit, with certain limitations, and etc. -- ideally, written and objectively constituted.".

I am also aware of the concept "ownership", which to me means "having right to use and/or dispose of". As with any/all rights, the right of ownership, i.e., the right to property, accrues to individuals, not collectives. At most, individuals can timeshare the right to property. But, if two people have say over something, then, in effect, neither does. Joint ownership translates to "neither party owns it", because ownership is individual in principle and right, and cannot be simultaneous across two parties.

Now, today, the legal notion of corporation in any form is perverted by granting legal status/rights to legally manufactured "entities". Only individuals have rights. Back the notion of partnership up to where it ought to stop, legally, and you are left with my original defintion: a friggin' credit agreement. That is all the currency we have in reality. Yeah?

- ico

- ico

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I am aware of the concept "partnership", which to me means "agreement to act in concert to mutual benefit, with certain limitations, and etc. -- ideally, written and objectively constituted.".

I am also aware of the concept "ownership", which to me means "having right to use and/or dispose of". As with any/all rights, the right of ownership, i.e., the right to property, accrues to individuals, not collectives. At most, individuals can timeshare the right to property. But, if two people have say over something, then, in effect, neither does. Joint ownership translates to "neither party owns it", because ownership is individual in principle and right, and cannot be simultaneous across two parties.

And again you deny the ability of my wife and I to jointly agree to each own the property that we own. You say, "if two people have say over something then neither does" - so because my wife and I must agree before we, for example, make a change to our house, you claim neither of us has a say over the house.

But if neither of us have a say, then neither of us can agree to change the house.

Do you see the problem with your thinking yet?

My wife and I mutually own our house and our cars. Further, we have mutually agreed that my wife and I have equal ownership of all income earned by each of us, working alone or in tandem. We have mutually vested each other with a commitment to care for and provide for each other for the rest of our lives. That is a contractual agreement in place between the two of us. If I then decide I no longer wish to be a part of this contract, is my wife not entitled to some recompense for the loss she will suffer due to my choosing to break our agreement?

No matter how you wish to define our shares in the property - you cannot disagree that we have a right to enter into this contract, and having done so, that one of us cannot unilaterally break the contract without the other being entitled to some recompense.

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And again you deny the ability of my wife and I to jointly agree to each own the property that we own. You say, "if two people have say over something then neither does" - so because my wife and I must agree before we, for example, make a change to our house, you claim neither of us has a say over the house.

But if neither of us have a say, then neither of us can agree to change the house.

Do you see the problem with your thinking yet?

As I said, neither of you owns the house; the fact that BOTH of you have say, means neither of you own it.

My wife and I mutually own our house and our cars.

To be objectively clear, you and your wife share the right of disposal of stuff; which means, neither of you actually own the stuff.

Further, we have mutually agreed that my wife and I have equal ownership of all income earned by each of us, working alone or in tandem. We have mutually vested each other with a commitment to care for and provide for each other for the rest of our lives. That is a contractual agreement in place between the two of us. If I then decide I no longer wish to be a part of this contract, is my wife not entitled to some recompense for the loss she will suffer due to my choosing to break our agreement?

Abso-f'cking-lutely, assuming the agreement was clear and present all along, and not a "creeping obligation", as is usually the case in the absence of pre-nup.

No matter how you wish to define our shares in the property - you cannot disagree that we have a right to enter into this contract, and having done so, that one of us cannot unilaterally break the contract without the other being entitled to some recompense.

Agreed. That is my whole point, it's a contractual obligation, but not ownership per se. In other words, it is not the same thing, and using oxymorons such as "joint ownership" or "collective ownership" or "government ownership" or "group ownership" just hides the truth from those too unwary or naive to notice what is really going on.

Buyer beware!

- ico

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