Our government puts two people in this arena with the money in the middle and says, “Now go fight for this!” And then when people do fight, they point at them and go, “Isn’t it terrible that they’re fighting!” What else can you say but that the entire [family court] system is just completely insane?
—Mike Newdow, activist
Bob Simms was a young rookie in the NFL when he met his future wife on a flight from Buffalo to New York City more than four decades ago. After the NFL, Simms became a Wall Street banker. Now sporting a mop of silver hair over a leathery face often punctuated by a pair of reading glasses, the only remnant of the athleticism of his youth are his broad shoulders, now covered by a navy blue Brooks Brothers blazer. Over lunch at a Manhattan restaurant, he can no longer remember what compelled him to marry his first wife. But when they divorced in the late 1970s, he says he made a generous offer that she accepted. The package included a large home, half of the marital assets, enough money to complete her education, a car, a country club membership, and alimony for life, which would be adjusted upward at 5% every year to account for inflation. The monetary arrangement was the kind of pension that disappeared from corporate America long ago because not even large corporations could commit to guaranteed payouts decades into the future. But Simms somehow made it work.
However, after several years, the monthly checks were no longer enough. Simms’ ex-wife filed for an increase and was denied. Then Simms remarried and his ex-wife sued him again. Because of the way the family code is written, the addition of another person’s income to Simms’ income tax return upped his ability to pay the woman he had divorced long ago. That the first wife had nothing to do with the new wife, and that their greater combined income was earned by and supported two people rather than one, was not considered relevant by a family court judge. The bottom line was that the after-tax income on his tax return had increased.
But things got worse for Simms. Not only could his original divorce settlement be re-opened for what the court calls a “modification,” but under the law his first wife could try to make him pay for suing him—a double insult.
Over the next several decades, his ex-wife sued him four times for modifications. Each time filings were submitted, e-mails were sent between attorneys (at $90 a pop), and the parties were summoned to a courthouse in Stamford, Connecticut to wait in a security line that Simms now terms the “parade of broken dreams.” After being scanned for weapons, they would simmer for hours at a time in a small courtroom, squeezed next to their attorneys who were billing them $600 an hour for waiting. Buy the book to read more…