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November 22, 2011

When Alpha Girls Divorce

Heather Hostetter, one of D.C.'s top divorce attorneys, reveals how she helps working women protect their hard-earned assets.

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Photo Credit: Peter Dazeley

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A recent survey conducted by the University of Virginia found that 38 percent of couples headed for divorce last year put it off because of the recession. Have you had clients reconsider divorce because it's just too expensive?
When people contemplating divorce come to me for consultations, they hear the economic reality and they're like, "Huh." But all of those people come back six months later. If you're not happy, money isn't going to keep you together.

How often do you see cases of manimony?
With increasing regularity. I see many more women who have been both the primary breadwinner and what I would call the primary family manager. They're not the primary caretaker because they've been working — they hire a nanny for that. But these women arrange the soccer games, make sure the taxes get done. The husband often owns a business that isn't successful. If the wife lets that go on a long time, she's going to pay alimony. And, boy, are those women pissed.

Are women judged more harshly than men during divorce proceedings when they have affairs?
Adultery has become so commonplace that judges don't really care — unless you're a serial cheater. I tell my clients that hiring a private investigator [to prove a spouse is cheating] is generally a waste of money, with this exception: If it matters to your spouse, if he will be embarrassed by it, if it will give you leverage in the settlement, then it's not a waste. Particularly where I practice, where image is foremost on the minds of many of my clients, that's a powerful force in the universe.

How does social media affect a divorce? Can Facebook updates and sexting be used in a divorce proceeding?
It's very easy to go on an opposing party's Facebook page to see what they're up to: How do they list their marital status? Whom do they have pictures of themselves with? Also, now you can tell when somebody was on Facebook — were they supposed to be home watching the kid while they were online? That said, I don't think sexting has changed the game at all. Sending a couple of dirty photos isn't committing adultery.

Many advice books suggest that couples keep separate bank accounts. What's your take on that?
Those marriage-proofing books are talking about maintaining independence and making sure you know what's going on financially. But from a divorce standpoint, it won't protect your money if the money was acquired during the marriage.

Be honest — does your job ever get depressing?
Shockingly, no. I was a public defender, and nothing is more depressing than somebody going to jail for 30 years on your shift. My clients now are in bad shape when they come to me. But two years later, they send me a nice Christmas card and they're good. And at parties, I usually have the most interesting job in the room.


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