Alimony or Jail
Much like the laws that govern divorce, the laws concerning alimony differ from state to state and there are many different variables that can influence the process. Judges wield the most authority as to whether or not alimony is awarded and the laws usually require judges to consider the standard of living during a marriage, each spouse’s income and earning capabilities, the age and health of each individual, and the need for or ability to pay alimony. However, as a rule of thumb, alimony is usually granted when one spouse has been financially dependent on the other for a long period of time. Alimony is not the same as child support payments. Alimony is intended to be used to pay for food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and other household expenses. Maintaining a lavish lifestyle, vacations and recreational expenses, or contributions to a savings account are not considered valid reasons to be granted alimony.
The rules governing alimony vary, but most judges have wide latitude in authorizing alimony and determining the amount to be awarded. The payments are usually a series of monthly installments, but lump sum awards are not ruled out, but they are fairly rare. Alimony is a tax deduction for the payer and taxable income for the spouse receiving the payments. The length of time that alimony payments will continue to be paid can vary, but most jurisdictions will terminate payments when the receiver remarries or begins living with a member of the opposite sex. Obviously, alimony will also be terminated when the paying spouse dies.
Alimony can be modified and tweaked to increase, reduce, or modify the payments, but it cannot simply be ignored. Court-ordered alimony payments are backed by the full force and effect of the law and failure to pay is a punishable offense in every state. As a man in West Virginia recently learned, spouses who do not feel that they should have to pay their court-ordered alimony payments have two choices, make the payments or go to jail.
Most people will choose to make the payments, although somewhat begrudgingly. However, Sean Keefe, of Vienna, West Virginia apparently is not most people. Mr. Keefe is making a point out of his refusal to pay alimony in an effort to forces a change in the West Virginia laws. Oddly enough, Sean Keefe’s problem came to light after he was divorced from his wife and he learned that he was not the biological father of their child. West Virginia law states that Keefe is financially bound to support the child, while the man who fathered the child bears no legal or financial responsibility at all.
Mr. Keefe’s grief is not that his child is not his own and he has never missed one of his $1,300-a-month child support payments. Sean Keefe’s problem is the $1,800-a-month alimony payment to a woman who had an affair behind his back. Sean says he is not trying to get out of paying child support, but he feels that he has a right to get out of paying child support if he is not his child’s father. Keefe has stated that he would rather go to jail than pay his wife alimony. The judge apparently agreed and sentenced him to six months in the North Central Regional Jail as a result of his failure to pay.
Because Sean and Tina Keefe were married when the child was born, under the law, he’s the legal father. Although Tina Keefe acknowledges that her child was not fathered by Sean Keefe, she does contend that any child born under a marriage is the responsibility of the married couple. West Virginia laws says that if your wife has a child and even if you find out is not yours, unless the woman releases you from child support, you have to pay it. There are 38 states with similar alimony laws and only 12 states with separate child paternity laws designed to mitigate circumstances like the Keefe’s. As a result, Sean Keefe and his new wife, Caroline Keefe, are making an issue of the case and endorsing two new bills in the state legislature to deal with it.
Senate Bills 502 and 503 were introduced by State Senators Donna Boley and David Nohe, and would allow the court to consider terminating child support in situations where DNA evidence supports the claim that a person did not biologically father a child and would ban alimony where there is proof of an affair in the married relationship. The Keefes and their family and friends have created a Facebook page called WV.Paternity.Fraud. to help gather support for the bills. An unhappy Sean Keefe stated that “I didn’t kill anybody. I didn’t assault anybody. And I didn’t steal from anybody and I am going to jail. I told her I would no longer pay alimony. She has ceased to be my responsibility. The courts disagree. Now I am going to jail.”
Tina Keefe said her ex-husband didn’t have to go to jail, but that he chose to do so. Sean Keefe pleaded his case to two different Family Court judges, but lost both appeals and was given a six-month jail sentence with bail set at $26,700. Surprisingly, Sean Keefe acknowledges a paternal relationship with his son and said “I love my son. He will always be my son, and I will always be his father. And I will always take care of him. And I will always pay his mother child support.” Mr. Keefe doesn’t want to pay the alimony but his only recourse is to change the state laws and he hopes his plight will help build support for the proposed legislation changes.
As the laws stand today, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals employs eight different factors to be considered when determining whether or not blood test evidence should be admitted in court for the purpose of disproving paternity. The eight factors are:
1 – The length of time following when the putative father was first placed on notice he might be the biological father before he acted to contest paternity.
2 – The length of time during which the individual desiring to challenge paternity assumed the role of father to the child.
3 – The facts surrounding the putative father’s discovery of non-paternity.
4 – The nature of the father-child relationship.
5 – The age of the child.
6 – The harm which may result to the child if paternity was successfully disproved.
7 – The extent to which the passage of time reduced the chances of establishing paternity and a child support obligation in favor of the child
8 – All other factors which may affect the equities involved in the potential disruption of the parent/child relationship or the chances of undeniable harm to the child.
After Sean Keefe serves two months of his current sentence, the court will once again ask him if he will make the alimony payments and if he says he will not, he will return to jail unless the laws are changed.