When I am representing the payee spouse (frequently also known as the financially inferior spouse, the spouse whose earning capacity pales in comparison to the payor spouse, and the like), I find it interesting when the attorney for the payor spouse tells me that my client should simply be happy with what her soon-to-be former spouse is willing to give her. This is particularly common in higher income or asset cases, where the variation on this theme may be the lawyer saying something to the effect of, “I wish that I had the money he/she is going to have when this is all over.” In other words, after years of a marriage filled with typically mutual, but different sacrifices to build the marital estate that could not have been built without both parties, the payee spouse should somehow feel blessed for being married to the payor spouse, take the money he or she is being given, and walk away with a smile.
Just because the payee spouse may be receiving a substantial amount of assets or a high amount of alimony, however, does not mean that the agreement is fair and reasonable under the circumstances of a given case. There are laws and cases that govern the issues that arise in family law matters – alimony, child support, equitable distribution, custody, and more. Thus, if the total marital estate is worth $500,000 and the payee spouse is receiving $100,000 and some alimony, is that fair? If the total marital estate is $100 million and the payee spouse is receiving $20 million and no alimony, is that fair? The answer is – it depends. It depends on countless factors, many of which are fact specific to a given case. Simply because it is a lot of money, however, does not make it so.
As a result, whether the amount being offered for equitable distribution and alimony is enough to allow the payee spouse to live a happy or comfortable life does not mean that it is the right amount in the context of a specific case. Oftentimes, the opposing attorney will convey the sentiment I describe above as a negotiating tactic, expressing – in not so direct terms – that the other party is not about to agree to what the payee spouse believes is fair and, for that matter, does not care what a court may decide. If the payee spouse simply settles without knowing what he/she is entitled to under the law, or the positives/negatives of settlement under the circumstances, however, then it is only that spouse who is doing a disservice to their own life and future in the end.