by Bonnie Erbe
Scripps Howard News Service
March 28, 2005
The story is that last week a Connecticut judge awarded the cheating spouse of a mega-millionaire husband roughly one-fourth of his estate in a divorce settlement. My husband and co-worker were not pleased by the fact that Susan Sosin's cheating ways only reduced her expected take of 50 percent by half. She still walked away with more than $40 million.
Too much for an unfaithful spouse? Of course, but I reach the same conclusion for different reasons. My husband and co-worker follow the road more traveled in their analysis. They believe she is entitled to nothing (or something close to nothing) because she was unfaithful and her husband apparently upheld his vows. I'm in full agreement that her behavior was reprehensible, but also believe her take should have been smaller, based on her financial contribution to the relationship.
During the course of her marriage to corporate titan Howard Sosin, Susan Sosin had a short-term fling with a rock-climbing guide and a longer-term relationship with a married man she met on a flight to China.
This, as far as we know, while her husband was toiling away to build up AIG Financial Products into an investment powerhouse. He was ultimately rewarded with an estimated $168 million from the company he founded, according to the Associated Press and other media covering the divorce trial.
Of course, her infidelities should have been taken into account. But Howard Sosin may have known her to be capable of violating her marriage vows. When they met, she was married and he was not. Media reports did not include the gory details about whether she cheated on her ex-husband or left that marriage first and then began her relationship with Howard Sosin.
More importantly, however, my question is: How much did she have to do with building the equity he ultimately amassed? Again, the media offer no details other than to report her claim that she was a good mother to their three children. Is that alone enough to entitle her to $40 million?
The traditional approach to divorce under common law in community-property states is that each spouse gets half of whatever came into the marriage. But marriage is also a dying institution, and perhaps this is part of the reason why. We all know the oft-cited statistic that 50 percent of American marriages end in divorce. In Europe, according DiscoveryHealth.com, the average is lower, at 33 percent. But that's because fewer European couples are marrying in the first place.
For example, The New York Times recently reported that some 45 percent of children in France are born to single mothers _ towering over our unacceptably high illegitimacy rate of about 30 percent.
Long-haul fidelity is not easy nor is it simple, as those of us who have been married for more than a decade well understand. It takes work and patience and getting used to failed expectations (many of us envision our spouses to be our romantic saviors before we spend enough time with them to notice their human failings).
Nature may be working against long-term relationships, too.
DiscoveryHealth.com notes that science has discovered a hormone called oxytocin that prompts the emotional changeover from first passion (or limmerance) to the long-term emotional bonding achieved in successful marriages of lengthy duration. Does that mean chemistry also contributes to some people's inability to remain faithful? Who knows?
But we do know finances possess immense clout in the decisions people make, not only about whether to enter into marriage but also whether and when to exit. Forty-million dollars is more than most women walk away with for having three kids. I agree with the guys: it's too much!