Who knows about divorce laws in countries other than the U.S.?

This is crowd-sourced appeal to readers… I’m looking for divorce litigators to interview outside of the U.S. One restriction is that they have to be able to speak English. This is for a book project on which I am a co-author. We’re particularly interested in the following countries: Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan. However, we would be happy to learn about other places as well.

This draft chapter shows what we’ve got so far (England, Denmark, Iran, Switzerland).

One thing that we’re trying to figure out is how many countries worldwide make having a child following a casual encounter potentially more profitable than going to college and working. (Easily done in California, Massachusetts, New York, and Wisconsin, for example.) How many other governments set up these kinds of economic incentives?

We want to know if other countries have large variations in the profitability of children across provincial boundaries, comparable to the Wisconsin/Minnesota border for example (the child who yields a $20 million profit in Wisconsin will yield only about $200,000 in profit over 18 years, above USDA-estimated child-rearing expenses, across the bridge into Minnesota).

We want to know which other countries assign different cash values to children from the same parent. [From our book: New York can serve as a simple example. Consider a married couple with three children. The wife goes away for a few weeks to help a sick relative. The husband goes to the neighborhood bar, drinks too much, and, by the time the wife returns he has gotten three women pregnant. The first woman to sue gets 17 percent of his gross income. The second woman gets 17 percent of the 83 percent remainder (14 percent). The third plaintiff gets 17 percent of 83 percent of 83 percent (about 12 percent). Roughly 43 percent of his pre-tax income will thus go to satisfy these court orders. Roughly 50 percent of his income will go to pay local, state, and federal income taxes. The three children and the wife of the marriage will thus be living on 7 percent of his income while each extramarital child gets a larger, but different amount.]

We’re curious to know if selling abortions is a standard practice anywhere outside of the U.S. [In case you’re not familiar with the practice, here are some excerpts from our draft book:

“The Supreme Court made abortion legal with Roe v. Wade in 1973 and Congress made abortion profitable in 1988 with the federal Family Support Act [that required states to develop child support guidelines],” is how one attorney summarized the evolution of law in the last quarter of the 20th century. The new state guidelines made an out-of-wedlock child just as profitable as the child of a marriage. Our interviewees report that it did not take long for people to put these two legal innovations together and thus began the age of women selling abortions to men. “If the child support guidelines make having a baby more profitable than working,” a lawyer noted “it only makes sense that 5-10 years of the average person’s income is a fair price for having an abortion.”

In many of the jurisdictions where child support is substantially more than the $9,000 per year that the USDA estimates as the actual cost of caring for a child we learned about the practice of selling abortions. From the Massachusetts chapter:

Due to the $40,144 number at the top of the guidelines, the 23 years over which child support is payable, and the convention whereby a defendant must pay a plaintiff’s legal fees, Massachusetts is one of the most lucrative states for the marketing of abortions. In our interviews we learned about a 40-year-old entrepreneur who was dating a seemingly carefree 25-year-old. Two months later, the young woman presented the man with a positive pregnancy test result, a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet showing the $923,312 in child support that he would owe over 23 years, plus a likely $300,000 college budget and additional amounts for health insurance, day care, etc. Her attorney offered to sell her abortion for $250,000 plus legal fees and the cost of the abortion itself. The man paid the $250,000, which was tax-free to the woman. Could that be considered extortion? “It is not extortion nor illegal to threaten to have a baby,” responded Harvard Law School professor Jeannie Suk, when asked to consider the facts of this incident. Asked to comment on the prevalence of abortion transactions in Massachusetts, another attorney said “This is a good state in which to work your mind and education, but it is a great state in which to work your body and child.”

Attorneys report that one issue in abortion sales is establishing paternity. “When I’m involved in an abortion transaction on the father’s side,” noted one lawyer, “I recommend a paternity test if there is any possible doubt. The person who sells an abortion is not necessarily the most reliable source of information.” Is it possible to do a paternity test on a fetus? “Absolutely,” the lawyer continued. “They can do it after a couple of months using the mother’s blood and a blood sample from the father. It’s called ‘NIPP’ [Non-Invasive Prenatal Paternity] and relies on the fact that some of the baby’s DNA makes its way into the mother’s blood.”]

We want to find out which countries have administrative procedures, as opposed to litigation, for ending a marriage and what the typical costs are if the person initiating the divorce does choose to litigate.

We are interested in whether a country has a custody presumption(e.g., 50/50 if the parents don’t agree on something else, mom always wins, mom always wins until the kids are Age X, etc.) and, if favoring one parent with primary custody is common, whether there is a statutory schedule for the child to see the other parent (or if the schedule itself can be the subject of litigation; see the Texas Standard Possession Order for a unique U.S. jurisdiction where parents can’t fight over the details).

We want to know the extent to which it is possible to obtain a de facto divorce via a domestic violence complaint (see “Criminal Law Comes Home” from the Yale Law Journal for how this works in the U.S.; also this more consumer-friendly article by David Heleniak in the Rutgers Law Review).

Basically we need to be put in touch with English-speaking working divorce litigators in other parts of the globe. Thanks in advance for any help.

11 Comments

  1. David

    October 31, 2014 @ 8:54 am

    1

    Reading some of your posts on this topic, I wonder if it would make sense in the relevant states for young men of good prospects to have a vasectomy. They could have their sperm frozen beforehand in order to allow them to make a deliberate decision to have children in later life. And when they did decide to pursue parenthood, perhaps a pre-insemination legal agreement with the mother might be possible?

  2. Mark

    November 1, 2014 @ 10:51 pm

    2

    Phil,

    Since divorce and or having a court fight over child support is something (presumably)
    that nobody strives to achieve, I’m wondering the purpose of your efforts?
    Informational, instructional or maybe a book that demonstrates the preposterousness of it all?
    Or am I missing the reason entirely?

  3. jseliger

    November 2, 2014 @ 11:31 am

    3

    You could try posting the same plea to http://www.reddit.com/r/legaladvice .

  4. DJ

    November 2, 2014 @ 6:05 pm

    4

    There are such things as reversible vasectomies. You can have valves put in, instead of cutting the line permanently. Freezing sperm is far from optimal because artificial insemination is very painful compared to natural conception.

    On the other hand, there is considerable risk involved in a vasectomy — things always have a chance of going wrong. For that matter, I find Philip’s latest obsession with child support to be totally bizarre because he ignores risk. Philip is hyper-aware, and writes very eloquently, of the risks of going to college and working, and the possibility that it won’t work out. But when it comes to collecting child support and extorting abortions, all discussion of risk disappears. A pregnancy is a very physically taxing and traumatic event even in the best of circumstances. I mean, even the risk of death is nontrivial (2 per 10000 in the US). Then you factor in the resulting decline in physical attractiveness (not really relevant in most circumstances, but supremely relevant to the topic at hand), the risk that the dad won’t pay, or can’t pay, or runs into job or life circumstances that change his ability to pay (one can purchase life insurance, but there’s no such thing as a market for unemployment insurance, and the state’s unemployment insurance is woefully inadequate). Having a baby is not an automatic million dollars in child support. It’s a lottery ticket that comes at a steep cost — not unlike a degree, coincidentally.

  5. philg

    November 3, 2014 @ 12:30 am

    5

    Mark: Nobody strives to achieve a court fight over child support? You obviously didn’t interview the same litigators that we did! I guess your statement is true in that lawsuit plaintiffs of all types would prefer simply to be paid immediately and in full without having to go to court.

    What’s the purpose of the book? Consumers surveyed don’t understand the law. In Massachusetts, for example, the college graduates surveyed believed that the maximum amount of child support obtainable from a one-night encounter with a high-income person was $1750 per month (median estimate). The real answer is “unlimited” but certainly no less than $40,000 per year (guideline amount of post-tax child support when suing someone earning $250,000 per year, pre-tax). Massachusetts college-educated consumers also erroneously believed that, in the event of a divorce, a court would typically award 50/50 shared parenting. (I.e., they thought that they lived in Delaware, Arizona, or Alaska).

    People who understand the law better can make better life choices.

    DJ: None of the lawyers that we interviewed spoke of having any difficulty in collecting child support from high-income defendants. If they had enough money to be worth suing at the time of the pregnancy, birth, or divorce, they had enough money to pay. Remember that a defendant who doesn’t pay child support goes to prison.

  6. Mark

    November 4, 2014 @ 1:51 am

    6

    Phil,

    My original post here inferred that no man hopes to find himself embroiled in a divorce proceeding and or a child support lawsuit. I don’t think any man’s goal is to impregnate a woman and then spend a fortune for the act. That was what I was intimating.
    Of course there are women (and men) rotten to the core who would stoop to such low levels as a negotiated abortion sale or actually having a child for the singular reason of collecting a windfall for the next couple decades.
    I think thats a given.
    Maybe instead of writing a book, why not spend the effort lobbying your state to relax its divorce and child support laws. Here in Virginia, child support is determined by a fairly simple formula and while it’s not perfect, it sure as hell beats the going rates in Massachusetts!
    Or maybe hand out pamphlets to men in states that have tough child support guidelines that direct them to have intercourse in another, more child support payment friendly state.
    Or maybe, just maybe, guys could simply learn to keep the dog inside the doghouse, thus eliminating the problem entirely. :-)

  7. philg

    November 4, 2014 @ 11:13 am

    7

    Mark: It is true that Virginia is formulaic for child support, out to infinite levels of income. And also true that the percentage of income is much lower when applied to a high-income defendant (the net result being that a plaintiff in Fairfax County, one of the most expensive places in the U.S., would collect far less revenue than a plaintiff in Springfield, Massachusetts, where a median price house is $126,700 (Zillow)). Virginia does set up a war between the parents, however, much more so than nearby Delaware or other states with a 50/50 custody presumption. And Virginia doesn’t have some of the features of the states whose systems are perceived as more fair by consumers, e.g., the ability for a litigant to automatically disqualify a judge (usually within about 10 days after the judge is assigned). If you get a judge known to be biased, in Virginia you are stuck with that judge.

    We’re not activists or lobbyists, though. Legislators told us that divorce laws in most states are written by divorce litigators. Either the bar association is the most effective lobbying group or, in many cases, high-end divorce litigators are themselves legislators and in charge of committees. Thus any change to the laws that would tend to reduce conflict between parents is generally impossible to implement. Anyway, the five of us (authors) don’t necessarily agree on what the laws should be. One of us is a child of divorce, for example, and her perspective on shared parenting is different from those of us who grew up in intact homes (she directly observed the conflict between her parents that was created by a state offering to make one of her parents the “winner/primary parent” and the other the “loser/secondary” parent). A more useful exercise, I think, is to inform citizens. Young people spend a lot of time trying to figure out what kind of education and job to select. We think that they should also study family law in the various jurisdictions where they might settle and/or travel to. From an intro chapter: “When young people ask me about the law as a career,” said one litigator, “I tell them that in this country whom they choose to have sex with and where they have sex will have a bigger effect on their income than whether they attend college and what they choose as a career.”

  8. David

    November 4, 2014 @ 7:25 pm

    8

    Bit late to this, but I’ve just read the draft chapter you linked to.

    I have a good knowledge of the situation in the UK. The person you cite from your interview is at best a bit of an edge case and at worst sounds like their situation was mishandled. For example, if as he states he chose to capitalise alimony/maintenance then a typical agreement would prevent his future income being assessed (including the household income from his new partner if he chose to marry her). I also don’t understand why he is paying his ex-wife £100,000 a year (after the cost of visiting his daughter) if he paid her a lump sum in lieu of maintenance.

    In the UK there is a presumption of 50/50 parenting responsibility. It is most common for children to end up with their mother rather than father, but this is what gets chosen by the parents, not what the courts choose. If this man had the child with him for 50% of the time then (a) he wouldn’t have to pay any child support whatsoever, no matter what disparity there was in income levels and (b) his ex-wife wouldn’t be allowed to move abroad without good reason. There are, unfortunately, plenty of cases of people being manipulative and some people claim that courts show favouritism to the mother, but that’s not the law, nor the experience of many.

    Whilst the cited case might make good reading, it’s not very representative of the situation in the UK.

  9. philg

    November 4, 2014 @ 9:23 pm

    9

    David: Can you put us in touch with a UK litigator? We would love to be able to improve the UK section with facts from someone authoritative. [Separately, as I recall the UK consumer we interviewed did say that he had paid a lump sum in lieu of alimony but the ex-wife spent it all and then was able somehow to come back for more, perhaps through child support. As for why he didn’t have the child 50/50… are you sure that was the presumption 15 years ago when he got sued?]

  10. DJ

    November 7, 2014 @ 4:14 pm

    10

    philg, I am sure that collecting from high-income defendants is easy. But there are more risks than just failure to collect. What if you thought someone was high-income and they’re not? For that matter, in your hypothetical example from New York, the husband (after three extramarital children) is already left with only 7% of his income, so any fourth (or subsequent) women would clearly get at most 7%, and a fifth woman might well be stuck with 0%. Your question is whether women in other countries make child support extortion a standard practice, but I’m not convinced it’s standard practice even in the US. Of course it happens, and it’s often profitable, but there are huge risks. Interviewing those who are successful in the scam is biased; you would need to gather data on those who tried and failed in order to get a true picture of the risks.

  11. China Hand

    November 8, 2014 @ 10:53 pm

    11

    Hi.

    I am not an attorney but I live in China and have several married friends.

    ===============
    Children out of wedlock:
    ===============

    This is illegal in China. It is also a massive cultural stigma. Wife-Husband-Child is the only socially acceptable social unit in this country. Being single is frowned upon. People nearly force the single adults to marry, the pestering to marry moves beyond harassment. Parents DO FORCE their single children to marry by age 26, they have no choice in the matter.

    Expressly forbidden by black letter law. To give birth in a hospital you must present papers that show you are allowed to have the child. If you give birth at home, you must show those papers to put the child in school. There is no hope for such a child – they will never be allowed into a school, college or get a job.

    If by some stroke of luck you can find the money to buy admittance, the child will never go to college or have a decent job.

    There is a file that follows people around, and this child’s file will reveal instantly their status. This will be held against them for life and perhaps longer.

    China is about paperwork and conformity to authority.

    This is not about communism – the culture has been like this for 2,500 years or longer.

    Since no woman can have a child without a husband, she cannot bribe a man. If she is pregnant and single and attempts to force marriage, she has no leverage as he can refuse and for her to be visibly pregnant while single is a social death times one trillion.

    Single women CAN bribe a man for the abortion but this is only $30-$100 USD or fewer.

    ======
    Divorce:
    ======

    If uncontested, there is not an issue. The attorney will not prod the woman to destroy her husband.

    If contested, split 50-50.

    However in China women control all of the money, bank accounts and such. Wives give their husbands an allowance, do not give them access to the family bank account or ATM, he must ask her for money and he must justify it to her. Most Chinese men walk around with very little money in their pockets. The wife has it all.

    If a woman divorces or separates and takes the child, and then remarries she will often dump the child at the ex-husband.

    “”I have a new family. Here, it’s your problem.””

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