Family Law

Is jailed former portfolio manager a poster child for alimony reform?

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A former portfolio manager on Wall Street who says he simply doesn’t have the money to pay alimony of nearly $78,000 annually after job losses and using up his savings will be spending his nights and weekends in jail for the foreseeable future.

Noting that Ari Schochet owes $233,000 to his former wife of 17 years, a New Jersey judge on Monday ruled that he must continue to serve the part-time contempt sentence unless and until he comes up with a down payment of $25,000, Bloomberg reports.

Schochet’s pro bono lawyer, Benjamin Kelsen, said during a hearing in the Bergen County case that Schochet wants to pay but can’t and unsuccessfully sought Schochet’s release pending a 30-day review. With child support, Schochet’s total annual obligation to his ex-wife is nearly $100,000.

Although Family Court Judge Ronny Jo Siegel pointed out that Schochet could have sought a separate hearing concerning his ability to pay, Schochet and others say doing so is expensive and the system is difficult for a nonlawyer to navigate.

Those behind the state’s alimony reform movement say it should be easier for individuals to show that they can’t afford to pay court-ordered alimony and harder to jail a former spouse for failing to do so.

“State judges are incarcerating non-criminals without even a sentence,” said attorney Stuart Meissner, a candidate in an October special election for U.S. Senate who has made alimony reform part of his platform. He says individuals should be represented by counsel and given a hearing to determine ability to pay before they are incarcerated.

Legislation to reduce or even eliminate alimony is being considered in at least 10 states, including New Jersey. However, even though women are now a mainstay of the American workforce, the concept of supporting a stay-at-home spouse, post-divorce, isn’t entirely a relic of history, says attorney Laura W. Morgan, who operates Family Law Consulting in Charlottesville, Va. Among other reasons, women on average still earn less than men, she points out.

Sharona Grossberg, the ex-wife of Schochet, told the judge on Monday that she has had to get three jobs to cover the cost of raising the couple’s four girls.

“I feed my daughters, I clothe them, I pay for their health insurance, I keep gas in the car,” Grossberg said. “My paycheck doesn’t cover the expenses that are necessary. I cannot do this alone.”

Her ex-husband says his part-time entry-level job as a stock transfer agent leaves him with about $100 per month after his wages are taxed and garnished. Occasional work for a florist brings in some extra bucks.

Jailed at least eight times during the past two years for missing required payments to Grossberg, he now follows a routine before each family court hearing, including wearing a nicotine patch to deal with a lack of cigarettes behind bars and writing key phone numbers on his arm in permanent ink, an earlier Bloomberg article reported.

“When I tell people what’s happened to me these last two years, they say, ‘Your story can’t possibly be true, and you must be in court because you beat your wife,’” he told the news agency. “This has nothing to do with anything other than money.”

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