Open letter to POTUS
* Disclaimer: I use "he" herein meaning supporting spouse. Women often earn more than men. Here, I'm generalizing.
Now that you're POTUS, I have a couple pressing inequities I would like you to remedy. Yet another disclaimer: As a white woman with a doctorate degree, I understand that I'm privileged. And to be clear: I'm not a victim, but I am an equal. So take care of the big stuff first: immigration reform, race relations, climate change. But once you dispense with those quagmires, please consider a disadvantaged group that deserves a little attention and legal protection: divorced mothers (hereinafter: "D-Moms").
I'm one of them. But this is not (just) about me. It's about my friends, my past and present paying and pro bono clients, women from all walks of life confronted with the same endemic, lack-of-parity-shot-through-a-fossilizzed-biased system.
So many hyphens, so little time.
I can't point to one branch of government here. All three have failed D-Moms.
Here's the rub, Hils. As you know, most D-Moms were the primary caregivers when our children were young. We chose to stay home to mold and hold them when they were zero-to-three because we read Brazelton and Co. and understood (or were guilted into believing) that the first few years were make or break. We leapt off our lucrative career tracks carrying infants in Bjorns, family debt on credit cards, pounds on hips. We knew it would be worth it, because our kids were worth it. Meanwhile, our significant others (aka the secondary / weekend caregivers; let's call them, collectively, Fun Daddies!) thrived in the Paid Workplace. Their careers flourished as they scaffolded their way to polished métier perfection. (I'm tipping my hand here.) We, au contraire, moved a la somnambulist from pediatrician appointment to park district facility. We hosted playdates (aka spit-up-poop-out-"learn"-to-share nightmares). We stuffed goldfish-filled tupperware into unfashionable totes. We withered, intellectually and socially, donning mismatched socks and scrunchies in our hair. We did so with bells on, in the name of Family because we loved them.
We remembered (faintly) sex.
We looked up a decade later and were still under- or unemployed. Because although our children (probably gifted by now for sure, see e.g., maternal sacrifice) were attachment-imprinted and safely ensconsed in the Great American Classroom, that same classroom required our presence in a volunteer capacity once a week for 1.5-2 hours, not including the seasonal and annual fundraisers, aka unpaid indenture—way to go, state legislators! If only. Except the reality was that most of us had two or three classrooms that needed our help, thank you very much. Unpaid part-time job. No question. It doesn't sound like a lot, but when serving up 15 meal portions a day (sans help, Hils, try to picture it) was not optional, paid work outside the home—on top of the unpaid work inside the home and the classroom—was often a tall order.
When we could exhale BECAUSE MOMMY NEEDS THE BATHROOM RIGHT NOW FOR FOUR MINUTES OF PERSONAL HYGIENE THIS WEEK we focused our gaze only to behold ... love lost, careers defunct, flames extinguished. Superior-subordinate roles seemingly fixed. When our divorces were final* (*meaning the therapists, mediators and consulting attorneys were paid, the co-parenting plans were in place) and the dust settled, we were dismayed to learn the following:
Rub #1. Our earning capacity was irreversibly suppressed. Our kids' tutors would be earning more than us for quite some time.
Rub #2. If we were to move on with our lives, in the form of another relationship, and actually move in with a new lifemate (in lieu of the more treacly soulmate; lifemate is harder/better/more realistic), our family support decreases. By a lot. This is true even if a D-mom's new live-in has his own "first family" to support, which he usually does because D-moms gravitate to age-appropriate partners.
By contrast, if Fun Daddy!--who is earning five-to-six times more than us D-moms because, ya know, he didn't take several-to-ten years to wipe asses, curate citizens, hone the highly specialized skill that is sibling conflict management--moves in with someone, guess what? NOTHING happens to support. This is true, Hils, even if he moves in with a billionaire or a post-acquisition windfall recipient. Hypothetically, of course.
It's incumbent upon me to point out, pointedly, that this disparity is patently unfair and wrong. Why is the D-Mom penalized for having chosen her kids over her career when it mattered most? Can we fix this? Can we simply have the people living together at any point in time add up their net AGI—a crucial number to anyone who has survived the emotional armageddon that is divorce—and proceed accordingly and objectively unrelated to gender? After all, the ex's new lifemate might be (usually is, who are we kidding?) younger and/or pre-career gap. She might still be making bank. Or an heiress. Whatever the circumstance, why does her $$ NOT count when it comes to calculating support but the D-Mom's lifemate's $$ does?
How about the following legislative initiatives? I know you know people, Hils:
1. Inoculate support levels from modification based on the supported spouse's living situation and/or marital status (for that matter) UNLESS the supporting spouse agrees, by way of the MSA (marital settlement agreement to the uninitiated), to increase support commensurately should he move in with someone or change his marital status.
2. Require employers of supporting spouses to continue to provide health insurance coverage to the supported spouse as a primary insured as long as the supporting spouse is so employed and for the duration of the support period UNLESS the supported spouse opts out, presumably because she lands—by some act of divine intervention or nepotism which I'm sure happens 3% of the time—a full-time job that provides comparable coverage. One thing we know for certain, Hils: COBRA is a joke for D-Moms. It's laughably exorbitant; no one can afford it. Mine would have been $700/month plus $67 for dental; my ex pays $268 pre-tax for his coverage, which also covers our kids. And, btw, why should I have to rely on his coverage for our kids? I do all the admin on All Things Insurance for hours on end in any event; why not allow me to continue as a primary insured?
In a nutshell, New Enlightened POTUS Of a Certain Gender, it would be G.R.E.A.T. if D-Moms could get on with their lives without adverse and disparate pecuniary penalty.
Can you make that happen?
We paid our dues in kind, you see, and our kids are statistically better off for it.
Rebuilding our lives is hard enough.
Why not level the scales of justice?
* But it's never really final, is it?