Ari Schochet has grown so accustomed to being sent to jail for missing alimony payments that he goes into a routine.
Before his family-court hearing, Schochet, 41, sticks on a nicotine patch to cope with jailhouse smoking bans, sends an “Ari Off the Grid” e-mail to friends and family, and scrawls key phone numbers in permanent ink on his forearm.
The former Citadel Investment Group Inc. portfolio manager, who once earned $1 million a year, has been jailed for missing court-ordered payments at least eight times in the past two years as he coped with the end of his 17-year marriage.
The reason he ran afoul of the law was simple. He was out of work for most of that time, a victim of a weak economy, and he ran through his savings trying to pay his wife alimony and child support that totaled almost $100,000 a year.
“It’s a circle of hell there’s just no way out of,” Schochet said. “I paid it as long as I could.”
Schochet and ex-spouses in similar changed circumstances say New Jersey’s law unfairly imposes lifetime alimony on them. If they fail to make payments, like the $78,000 a year Schochet owes his ex-wife in alimony, they can be jailed for contempt of court regardless of whether they have a job or resources.
Relief may be on the way. In states such as New Jersey,Connecticut and Florida where divorce laws are based on century-old notions of what an ex-spouse deserves, laws are being proposed to limit alimony in recognition of wives’ earning power and the changed economic circumstances husbands can face.
Women paying alimony have horror stories too. Alisa Whiting, 50, who helped form New Jersey Women for Alimony Reform last year, worked in the mortgage industry for 25 years earning about $160,000 with bonus in 2004, when she was a vice president at JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), she said.
Whiting’s ex-husband was self-employed with two businesses and made more than she did for most of their 20-year marriage, she said.
When he stopped working after she filed for divorce in 2008, she was ordered to pay $20,000 a year in alimony until her youngest son is out of college and $25,000 a year afterward.
Whiting lost her job that year and went to work for a software company in Woodbridge, New Jersey, earning $52,000 a year responding to requests for proposals. Her hours were cut July 1 to two days a week. She takes home about $800 a month, including unemployment payments, she said.
She plans to represent herself in court in a request for an alimony modification.
“There are no words to describe the despair that I feel,” Whiting said. “I’m tired. It’s infuriating. Permanent alimony is an outdated concept. It’s based on a salary that I don’t have any hope of ever earning again.”