Modern Males Say
Living Off the Ex-Wife
Is No Cause for Shame
By ANITA RAGHAVAN
As a Hollywood actor, John David Castellanos is protective of his image. He stays in phenomenal shape and looks much younger than his 50 years.
But he admits to a fact that might be considered unflattering: He receives alimony from his former wife. To be exact, $9,000 a month.
"The law provides" for it, says Mr. Castellanos, who for years starred in the soap opera "The Young and the Restless."
More women are paying alimony, or maintenance checks, to their ex-husbands as they make inroads in the workplace. Jacqueline W. Silbermann, deputy chief administrative judge for matrimonial matters in New York, discusses the trend.
In the nearly 30 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against gender discrimination in alimony, few male beneficiaries have stepped forward to talk about it. Those who did typically went by pseudonyms or the golden rule of 12-step recovery: first names only.
Little wonder, considering the attention that has come to some former husbands of alimony-paying celebrities. "Why the courts don't tell a husband, who has been living off his wife, to go out and get a job is beyond my comprehension," Joan Lunden, the television personality, said in 1992 when a court ordered her to pay her ex-husband $18,000 a month.
But today's men are shaking off the stigma of being supported by their ex-wives. Several agreed to talk on the record for this article, in part because they say the popular image of the male alimony recipient is unfair: He's not always a slacker.
Mr. Castellanos says he has acted in or produced five movies since the breakup of his marriage, including a couple of projects that he says are nearing completion. If any of these projects strike gold, he says he would gladly forgo alimony. Even Ms. Lunden has had a change of heart. Through a former publicist, she now says of her 1992 comment: "That was a statement made in haste many years ago. I regret having said it."
Divorce experts say that fewer and fewer men are rejecting outright any talk of seeking alimony. The percentage of alimony recipients who are male rose to 3.6% during the five years ending in 2006, up from 2.4%, in the previous five-year period, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
That percentage is likely to rise as more and more marriages feature a primary earner who is female. In 2005 (the latest year for which data are available), wives outearned their husbands in 33% of all families, up from 28.2% a decade earlier.
Alimony -- a distinctly different category from child support -- is the money that higher-earning spouses hand to their lower-earning counterparts following the end of their marriage. Often it is court-ordered, years in duration and based on big discrepancies in spousal incomes.
Today, men in growing numbers are receiving alimony for the classic reasons that women traditionally did. A common argument is that they sacrificed their careers for the sake of their wives'.
"If it was not for the joint decision to support Marjorie's career advancement to the detriment of mine, I would be making considerably more money than I am currently," Christopher Bowen argued in a 2005 filing in Los Angeles Superior Court.
At the time of that request, Mr. Bowen was a Wachovia Securities executive receiving about $550,000 in annual pay, according to the court documents. But his wife, Marjorie Bowen, was expected in 2005 to earn $1.5 million as an executive at investment-banking boutique Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin, according to the court documents.
Mr. Bowen argued in the filing that when the couple moved back to Los Angeles because of her career opportunities, he took a cut in pay. "Based on my salary alone, I cannot maintain the marital standard of living," Mr. Bowen wrote in a petition filed in the Los Angeles court in August 2005.
Male alimony seekers are also touting sacrifices made on behalf of children. In the marriage of Joe and Diane Garnick, she logged 12-hour days as a global equity derivatives strategist for Merrill Lynch, earning several times what Mr. Garnick did as a top-performing toilet salesman. So in 2001, he quit that job to focus on raising their two girls, keeping the house clean and doing the shopping.
Following his 2002 divorce, he received alimony of $50,000 a year for four years from Ms. Garnick, now an investment strategist at Invesco Ltd.
As a stay-at-home dad, Mr. Garnick notes that he missed out on career opportunities that would have boosted his earning potential, particularly those involving travel. "I couldn't [travel] while I had a kid," Mr. Garnick says.
Mr. Garnick used the alimony to earn a mathematics degree from a community college. But he has returned to his old job selling toilets, where he earns only half what he did before quitting. "Society thinks that just because you are a man you can pick up a career after you have dropped it for 10 years and jump right back," he says. "That's just not the case."
Still, relatives of his former wife continue referring to Mr. Garnick as a "deadbeat," he says. And Ms. Garnick herself says, "In some instances, alimony has become akin to a social-welfare program provided by working women to their ex-husbands."
Some feminists say cases such as Mr. Garnick's show progress of a sort. "We can't assert rights for women and say that men aren't entitled to the same rights," says the famous feminist lawyer, Gloria Allred.
But the women who have to pay it are sounding a different chord. "I feel financially raped," says Rhonda Friedman, the former wife of Mr. Castellanos. So distasteful are the monthly payments she makes to him that after filling out the check she used to spit on it. Especially galling, she says, is that she was required to pay a substantial portion of the legal fees he racked up while securing a lucrative divorce agreement.
To be sure, some men don't want alimony, viewing it as an embarrassment. Others are just as high-powered as their wives. Yahoo President Susan Decker and her soon-to-be ex-husband have taken alimony off the table, according to court records. Meanwhile, Sara Lee Chief Executive Brenda Barnes is paying no alimony to her ex-husband, a former PepsiCo Inc. executive who now manages his own money. Until their youngest child recently turned 18, Ms. Barnes, who earned a total of $8.7 million in fiscal 2007, was receiving child-support payments from her former husband, according to court records.
Other men have learned that alimony is a powerful negotiating tactic, especially when their estranged wives clearly want to sever all ties. "For some people, it is truly offensive to write out a check each month to a spouse for support," says Sue Moss, a divorce lawyer at Chemtob Moss Forman & Talbert LLP in New York. "In those instances, if you can offer a financial package that is essentially the same as if maintenance was being paid, it is the preferable alternative."
Indeed, the increasingly common practice of trading alimony for a fatter slice of marital assets helps explain why the overall number of people reporting alimony income fell 17% during the decade ended in 2006, to a total of fewer than 400,000, the Census Bureau says.
In the case of Wachovia's Mr. Bowen, he ultimately waived his rights to spousal support. But the resulting settlement -- which neither party will publicly discuss -- suggests that Mr. Bowen received a generous division of assets. In addition to half of his wife's substantial private-equity investments, Mr. Bowen received a home in Manhattan Beach, Calif., a parcel in Utah and some properties in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Soap star Mr. Castellanos bluntly says he deserves alimony for the same reason that his former wife, Ms. Friedman, says he doesn't: He earned more than she did during six of the nine years they were married. Only after losing his regular role on "The Young and the Restless," and only after his wife received several promotions, did she start earning more than he. For years, his big paychecks financed their lavish lifestyle, and now he is due some payback, he says.
To Ms. Friedman, that financial history fails to support the argument that she should send thousands a month to her ex-husband, with whom she had no children. "I don't understand why someone becomes your financial responsibility just because you married them," says Ms. Friedman, who earns about $500,000 a year as the supervising producer of the soap opera "The Bold and the Beautiful."
Mr. Castellanos also argues that as an artist, he provided his wife with invaluable advice and insight that helped Ms. Friedman rise from production coordinator to producer.
Ms. Friedman hotly denies that he had anything to do with her success.
Even men without marital sacrifices to cite as cause for alimony are coming around to the idea that good fortune is no cause for shame. Women, after all, have been crowing for decades about the financial scalpings they collect monthly from their ex-husbands. So why shouldn't Phillip Upton take pride in his classic "muscle cars"?
A shop foreman at the time of his divorce last year, Mr. Upton says he couldn't have afforded the $20,000-a-year cost of maintaining his 1960s-vintage collection of cars with outsized motors.
But in his divorce settlement, he won alimony payments totaling at least $40,000 a year from his ex-wife, a marketing executive. "Had I not gotten that, I would have lived a different lifestyle," says Mr. Upton. His former wife, Noreen Upton, declined to comment.