Reform of divorce laws in light of the ways in which many women end up much worse off than their ex-husbands after divorce remains a huge problem for those of us concerned about Gender Justice.
But consider the current divorce case in the news of Marie Douglas-David, the 37 year-old woman who in 2002 married George David, a 67 year-old Connecticut executive who has a reported net worth of $329 million. Prior to the marriage Douglas-Davis was an asset manager at Lazard Asset Management (and, um, a Swedish countess) who quit her job when she married David so that she could travel and entertain with him.
When the relationship hit the rocks after two years (evidently they both had affairs – he with a woman he met at a flower shop and she with a Swedish fencing champion) they entered into a post-nuptial agreement to the effect that upon dissolution of the marriage Marie would receive a $43 million settlement. According to the Huffington Post, “Douglas-David wants the agreement invalidated. She’s asking to be awarded about $100 million in cash and stock, plus $130,000 a month in alimony.” She maintains that her essential weekly expenses include $250 for a personal trainer, $700 for limousine services, $4,500 for clothes, $1,000 for hair and skin treatments, $1,500 for restaurants and entertainment, $2,209 for her personal assistant, $1,570 for horse care, $600 for flowers and $8,000 for travel. In case you missed it, these are expenses per week. (To be fair, he claims ten times as much in weekly expense: Clothes $2,500, Yacht maintenance $95,943, Eating out $1,773, Travel $7,491, Charities $18,042, Entertainment $7,125, Wife’s residences $67,12. Who can’t relate to the crushing burden of the weekly “yacht maintenance” bill? Source for these numbers. )
This case makes me crazy.
When Marie Douglas married George David she seems to have morphed from a competent, even shrewd, investment banker into a vulnerable, defenseless wife who was a victim of her husband’s power and prestige. Her lawyer has argued in court that she thought she was in “a loving, sound marriage” until she found e-mails disclosing an affair between her husband and a younger woman. Shocking, shocking! (Oh wait, George had a previous wife with whom he had had three children, and he met Marie when she, a woman less than half his age, invested in George’s business on behalf of Lazard. Maybe the whole “younger woman-thing” is not so shocking.)
Marie, a woman with a serious, lucrative and successful career, junked it all when she met George, more than twice her age, and became a kept housewife. In the divorce lawsuit Marie maintains that she shouldn’t be held to the terms of the $43 million post-nup. Her lawyer argued in his opening statement to the judge that George coerced her to sign it by preying upon her fears of being divorced and childless. “He put a [figurative] gun to the back of her head.”
These sorts of cases gain lots of media attention and they undermine the problem of equity in divorce cases between regular people whom Weitzman studies in her book, The Divorce Revolution: The Unexpected Social and Economic Consequences for Women and Children in America. As a practical matter in most divorces, the less privileged party – usually the wife – walks away impoverished, or substantially less well off, than the more privileged party – usually the husband. This data hasn’t changed substantially since 1985, when she did her research.
When a woman such as Marie Douglas-David quits her job as an investment banker to become a wife – not only in the legal sense, but in the social sense (the servant to David’s professional and social life) – she’s not an absolute victim. She’s making a choice, and I must add, a bad choice. She did so at her peril. There is, as my law & economics colleagues would call it, a moral hazard problem here: to relieve Marie Douglass-David of any responsibility for her own support, because she was, after all, George David’s wife, is to solidify women as the dependents of men. They are the breadwinners, we are the arm candy and trophy wives. They belong in the wage labor market, we belong at home with the kids. We are the mommies, they are the masters of the universe.
This isn’t the sort of case where the couple marries young, they make a deal that they’ll invest in his career first, hers second, and then he doesn’t live up the deal and she’s left with a bunch of sunk costs – to borrow again ideas from economists. Or where they decide that it makes most sense for her to stay home and take care of the kids since, after all, he’s able to earn more given that he’s a man and they only need one wage to live on (a middle class scenario, that leaves out many, many families/couples that can’t afford to live on one wage).
No. This was a woman, a countess even, who had a very lucrative career when she met her husband, indeed met her future husband, a client, at the office.
The lesson from the Douglas-David divorce: why would any woman want to be a wife? You become a withered simalcrum of your former independent agentic self: unable to support yourself, vulnerable given your dependency on your husband’s wealth and support, and somehow exploitable by the prospect of being “divorced and childless.”
How can we avoid the even worse message this case delivers: What really is the difference between cashing out two years of marriage to a mogul as legalized prostitution? How can we make a principled distinction between what she’s demanding and front pay?
Remind me why any woman would want to be a wife?
– Katherine Franke