Over the last few days since Robin Williams’ death I have watched a barrage of blogs, social media outlets, and videos expound and share their theories on Robin William’s reasons for suicide. They review his life, evaluate the possible causative factors, and then seem to sum it up in a way that is most comfortable or familiar for them or for the general public or perhaps in a way that doesn’t require a deeper review of difficult topics that challenge long held biases about the duties of husbands. It’s funny how life works that way. Once we see something as a duty, if we question it, we become the bad guy? We could be seen as questioning the very fabric of the American way of life. How very appropriate that the one comedian that brought us comedy about so many issues that were difficult to discuss would be the reason today that we are discussing the damaging beliefs we have developed about alimony.
Where might these beliefs that it is the duty of one of the spouses to forever support the other after the marriage ends have come from? Perhaps the beginnings of this are rooted in the protestant belief of work ethic: “The term was first coined by Max Weber in his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, written in 1904–05. The Protestant work ethic is often credited with helping to define the societies of Northern Europe and other countries where Protestantism was common (for example, the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States of America).”[i] This value held that man works to support his family. This has had a heavy and long-lasting impact on society. Both in good and bad ways. These beliefs created more responsible citizens and a less dependent society on welfare and other means of support and led to the respect for the “self-made man”. These can be taken too far though and alimony is an example.
There comes a time when the basis for certain beliefs and values that society adopted need to be reviewed. And there comes a time when we need to run them through the balancing test that our Constitution demands. We have a system now where both men and women are responsible for themselves and their children equally. Yet the family courts continue to perpetuate the belief in many instances one person remains responsible to endow the other with support forever.
Many times it is the woman that is awarded alimony. The disadvantages that women had have become fewer and fewer over the generations. I won’t go into much depth on that here since I wish to keep this post short. You can read more on the history of Women’s rights and suffrage and the ERA if you wish to learn more about those issues. However, men are now being awarded alimony as well now, just not nearly as often. This is most likely due to the fact that we have moved to a much less gender biased society.
It bothers me every time I hear someone spout off and discount the effect that alimony had on Robin’s death because of other issues that he had. It is nauseating to read the unfounded biases that continue in our society and cause people to blame someone who the State turned into an involuntary servant for exercising a right to divorce.
It is shameful how people support the outdated notion of alimony being necessary to support someone who is able to support themselves and maintain the lifestyle of the marriage. There is so much injustice, suffering, and even death caused by this legal notion created solely to keep someone legally unequal.
A Voice For Men brought up alimony in a recent article called “Did the Family Courts Kill Robin Williams or was it just us?”[ii] and most of the responses seemed to be riled mostly with comments about the morality of suicide and drug and alcohol use. The comments seemed to have lost sight of the alimony issue. Where is the moral outcry against making someone a slave to another person based on nothing more than divorce? Oh but if we view alimony this way, we are called heartless and inconsiderate and receive a litany of reasons why the other person deserved to be punished for some outlandish behavior they had or indiscretion they committed.
It is almost sinful it seems to some to consider or even hint that perhaps the alimony awards could have played a major role in killing one of the most unique and talented comics of our time.
Over and over again, I read and hear people dance around the alimony idea having played a part. And witness repeated denials that alimony could have possibly played a role in taking down someone with so much money. YES, even someone who earned so much could have been burdened. And regardless of his earnings or ability to earn he deserved to be free from these imposed duties and obligations that forced him to earn based on archaic standards and without regard to constitutional balancing tests. Perhaps he was overburdened. But those that raise these possibilities can expect to get attacked by others who continue to be deeply embroiled in the continued bias and prejudice that a former marital partner is entitled to the future earnings of the other. They discount the application of Constitutional rights, or the fact that this might include the freedom and liberty to make new decisions after marriage or a relationship ceases to exist.
One of the reasons for this bias in Robin’s case could also be that Robin had more money than most of us could imagine and we cannot imagine financial issues ever being a burden on him. An example of those that completely refuse to admit that alimony had anything to do with his demise and ultimate death or that this could have imposed a great burden, are demonstrated in posts like the following one. (and no disrespect intended for the writer of this post as he genuinely was being very civil and expressing his thoughts – this is merely used as an example of how easily the impact of alimony can be missed or swept under the rug). The post read as follows:
“buddhafyre 8 hours ago FUNNY, AT THE TIME OF HIS DEATH HE WAS WORTH 50 -75 MILLION DOLLARS EVEN AFTER BITTER DIVORCES ALIMONY ETC……SO I DON’T THINK HE WAS CRYING ABOUT BEING BROKE….MORE LIKELY THE INCOME FROM THE SHOW KEPT HIM FROM HAVING TO DIP INTO HIS FINANCIAL RESERVES….ALSO ACCORDING TO THOSE WHO KNEW HIM BEST HE WAS DESPONDENT NOT ONLY ABOUT THE DIVORCES AND THE INABILITY TO KEEP THE FAMILY TOGETHER BUT ALSO ABOUT HAVING BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH PARKINSONS DISEASE……KNOW SOMETHING BEFORE YOU SAY SOMETHING”[iii]
My response to this post was: “buddhafyre And don’t you think that another thing like Parkinson’s that would affect his ability to work might have pushed him over the edge, if you are required to stay on the hamster wheel and work to continue to support others in the lifestyle they have grown accustomed to with no regard to your own lifestyle? And being worth something doesn’t mean that is what is liquid and pays the daily bills and obligations. It seems like there is a major bias, not picking on you with it, but I mean overall, where the general populous refuses to consider that awarding alimony at these types of levels could lead to resulting in suicide.”[iv]
Keep in mind that failure to pay alimony gets you thrown in jail. Another misconception that seems to be rampant in the community lately is that Robin was totally free as a bird to make choices and live the kind of life that he wanted to live.
One person responding to Molyneaux’ video eulogy to Robin stated: “faultroy…Williams got exactly what he asked for his entire life and in the end, he got something that everyone in ANY society longs for–the Right To Choose how to live his life, and how to NOT live his life.”[v]
And my response was: “faultroy I believe you missed the point, Robin, in the end, no longer had the ability or the freedom or the “Right To Choose how to live his life, and how to NOT live his life.” I realize that this too may be a concept that you may choose to reject. Could he choose not to work and still live the life that he had himself earned? Was he able to choose to keep his mementos and not sell them and still meet the obligations that the family courts had placed on him? Could he choose to be home with his family and still meet the obligations without having to sacrifice somewhere else?”[vi]
Very FEW people in the world get those choices after divorce, Robin certainly was no exception to the destruction and devastation that unconstitutional practices in the family law courts have on an individual’s life and their family.
So rather than view Robin’s death as a race for which singular issue caused his death, perhaps this is an opportunity to realize that Robin’s death, impacting as many people as it has, provides an opportunity to raise awareness in many areas.
Robin suffered in many ways that others also suffer. Perhaps there is some suffering we can reduce simply by recognizing our outdated biases regarding alimony. And while we cannot bring him back and remove the barbaric burdens that our family law courts imposed on him leaving him without fundamental personal choice in how to live his life; we can certainly use this as opportunity to stop the devastation others are feeling as a result of our outdated biases.
We can certainly work toward true equality even in divorce and empower people to thrive, dream, and drive their life to greatness as Robin once did!
I encourage everyone to realize, if you are one who is in the race to push a singular issue impacting Robin’s decisions and you are someone who needs to crush others attempts to raise awareness of other issues impacting Robin’s decisions, please stop for a moment and realize that there were a multitude of issues impacting Robin’s decisions. Each needs to be addressed by our society some through better science and others through examination of societal biases.
The more we advance as a society, the more we will be faced with multiple integrated issues that come together in unique ways to cause human suffering that can be avoided.
One of those issues that can be solved simply by evaluating our outdated biases is the issue of depriving one person of the right to make decisions in their life simply so another person can be financially provided for regardless of their own ability to support themselves. Do we really consider marriage in the 21st century to be an institution that can justify such a violation of personal liberties? What compelling state interest do we serve by making one ex-spouse a slave to the other simply because they divorced?
THE ROBIN WILLIAMS – JOHNNY CARSON SHOW VIDEO CLIP: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofgYq59QZck [i] Protestant Work Ethic. Wikipedia. Accessed on August 15, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestant_work_ethic [ii] “Did the Family Court Kill Robin Williams, or was it just us?” A Voice For Men http://www.avoiceformen.com/avfm-editorial/did-the-family-courts-kill-robin-williams-or-was-it-just-us/ [iii] “The Truth About Robin Williams” by Stefan Molyneaux. Accessed on August 15, 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=diyuAXzN7yo [iv] Ibid [v][v] Ibid [vi] Ibid