One of the many oddities of South Carolina family law is that a husband is typically best off committing adultery when he and his wife are either very young or very old. It’s the middle-aged dudes who suffer the most financially from their philandering.
When a couple is young, especially if there are no children, a husband typically risks little more than divorce–perhaps some attorney’s fees–if he cheats on his bride. Rarely in these marriages are there substantial assets to divide. Women’s wages frequently match–even exceed–men’s wages in their 20’s and 30’s, especially when such women have no child care responsibilities. Thus, such women aren’t typically candidates for alimony even if their husband’s adultery destroys the marriage.
Middle-aged husbands are the ones most punished by their adultery. Typically, these marriages have lasted 15-25 years (making them likely candidates for permanent alimony) and they often have teenage children. These men tend to be at the peak of their careers. Further, their wives have often forgone career development to care for children and the household, so the income disparity between spouses tends to be greatest at this stage in life. Because they often have older children, the economies of scale for one household tend to be greatest (teenagers are going to want their “own space” at both households if they are going to spend significant time in both households). Because the economies of scale are greatest at this stage, the added costs of a breakup are also greatest and these costs tend to be imposed on the at-fault husband.
Frequently in such cases, husband’s after alimony but before child support income will be lower than wife’s; once child support is factored in, the income disparities tend to be immense. Adulterous middle-aged husbands with older (but non-adult) children tend to have the greatest lifestyle diminution from an adultery divorce. These are the guy who end up sleeping on a fold out sofa while their ex-wives remain in the family home.
Yet, ironically, when couples are elderly, husbands can once again commit adultery with relative impunity. With the children now grown many “housewives” often return to remunerative employment while elderly men tend to have their incomes fall or remain flat as they hit their 60’s. Thus the income gap that increases during middle age begins to narrow. Since the couple typically lives alone, the economies of scale from living together are much smaller than they were when the parties had young children. The parties’ living expenses have typically decreased from their middle-age peak, as children leave the home and the couple settles into more modest housing. Often a husband can move in with the new “girlfriend” without any real additional living expenses. A husband who is long-retired or disabled is a poor candidate to pay alimony. Other than dividing a marital estate prior to the husband’s death, there are few significant financial penalties for most elderly adulterous husbands.
This irony has been apparent in a few of my geriatric divorce cases. I’ve represented a couple of husbands who’ve reconnected with a high school or college sweetheart at a 50th or even 60th reunion. They then leave their wife of 40+ years for the old flame and their wife, justifiably, seeks alimony. I’ve yet to see such wives actually get alimony, as it’s hard to get alimony from a man who’s retired or disabled. Typically, at best, the family court divides the marital estate on a 55/45 basis–the court is not allowed to extract a significant penalty in equitable distribution for marital fault–awards wife some attorney’s fees, and grants wife a divorce. Meanwhile, husband cohabits or marries his old sweetheart and wife spends her final years alone and lonely. Such cases might be one of the rare situations which merit a judicial award of lump sum alimony (assuming there’s enough marital assets to award such alimony) but so far I’ve never seen a wife argue for such an award. With the rise of social networking sites and erectile dysfunction medications, I expect such geriatric divorces may become a greater portion of many family law attorneys’ practices.
So my tongue-in-cheek advice for South Carolina husbands: cheat early, cheat late, but don’t cheat in the middle.