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Alimony is the least McGreevey can give ex-wife

Susan Filan: Jim McGreevey owes Dina Matos  alimony for a period of time based on his earning capacity. She has to work.  So should he.  And his earning capacity is greater than hers. Thus, his contribution should be greater.
Image: Dina Matos McGreevey
Dina Matos testifies during her divorce trail against former New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey at the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth ,N.J. on Thursday, May 29, 2008.Patti Sapone / AP

I have been listening to testimony in the divorce trial of the embattled McGreeveys for days now. While it is anything but riveting and salacious, and more like a bad math class, it is also quite sad.

It seems to me that while Dina Matos takes the witness stand to fight for her way of life, to stand up for herself, she is being put down and derided for the very same qualities that once made her so valuable to former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey as a wife. She took pride in being first lady of New Jersey: She paid attention to her appearance, she was ambitious. 

The press has had a field day with Matos, painting a very one-sided picture of her as an unintelligent money-grubbing gold-digger who hasn’t yet realized that she is no longer first lady of New Jersey. But I think the media has distorted her claims and I don’t think she is claiming that she is entitled to continue to live the lifestyle to which she became accustomed, as if she is “to the manner born.”

She was born in Portugal and came to this country with her parents. According to her testimony, she did not finish college because she had to help her family when her younger brother became ill. She speaks Spanish and Portuguese because her parents were not fluent in English. Matos even lived at home and worked until she met Jim McGreevey, a handsome, ambitious, Ivy League educated lawyer, who was mayor running for governor. She paid for their wedding and worked to support them.

Matos is rightfully upset.  When McGreevey wanted a first lady, he got one. Now that he no longer needs one, he laughs at her because she prides herself on being a former first lady.

When McGreevey left his post as governor prematurely after he disclosed his affair with a male state employee, his choices erased her chances, not his. He now lives in a $1.4 million mansion with his wealthy partner, who supports him. He is not working, but is attending seminary school full time to become an Episcopal priest. While he made her a princess, he has also made her a pauper, yet he still lives like a king.

What enrages Matos is that while she has to work to earn her $80,000 a year salary, her husband who does not work, claims he cannot afford to support her. Moreover, he does not feel she is entitled to support. She has to support herself, while his partner has to support him.

What further upsets her is that he is using the 17-room mansion, swimming pool, grounds landscaped by Frederick Olmstead of Central Park fame, and his luxurious lifestyle against her.  According to Matos, he is competing with her for the affection of their young daughter by hosting catered pool parties for her schoolmates and having pony parties on the grounds. She cannot do any of this.

The question Matos seems to be asking is if she has to work at her earning capacity, why doesn’t he?

Clearly he will have to pay child support. Does he have to pay alimony?

The judge will have to decide just what is his earning capacity. What is McGreevey worth?  Is he an impoverished seminary student, or a high-profile celebrity lawyer with substantial earning capacity. He has degrees from Harvard and Columbia and attended the London School of Economics. She did not graduate college.

And what is she worth? Just what does she deserve, if anything? While she is not claiming he owes it to her to live like a first lady, she does believe she is entitled to support so that she and her daughter can be comfortable.

And while more Americans are worried about putting gas in their cars than whether Dina Matos  shops at Neiman Marcus or T.J. Maxx, the question this cases raises for us all is, just what is an ex-spouse worth? What are you entitled to once you divorce? If you contribute to your spouse’s career, what are you owed, if anything, when its over? And what if you contribute to your spouse’s successful career, and then your spouse just chucks it all? Who has to pay for that?

I think Jim McGreevey owes Dina Matos alimony for a period of time based on his earning capacity. She has to work.  So should he.  And his earning capacity is greater than hers. Thus, his contribution should be greater. Not forever, but for a period of time, probably equal to the length of the marriage.

Let’s see what the judge thinks.