The double standard of community property: her rights, his responsibility
When Tammy Faye Bakker divorced Jim, community property laws guaran teed Tammy Faye rights to half of the profits of their ministry. Why? Marriage makes a couple legal equals. How a couple divides roles is private business, but community property laws were supposed to make equal rights and responsibilities for the couple s profits or debts public business. But do they?
Although Jim and Tammy Faye had equal rights to profits no matter what role she played, when the business got into trouble, Jim got forty years in prison and Tammy Faye got none Tammy Faye did not have to even appear in court.
On the surface, this appears justifiable if she didn’t know what was going on. But if equality means a woman shares legal rights to the profits of a marriage no matter ubai role she plays or how illegally those profits were accrued, then equality also means a woman shares legal responsibility for any illegalities in creating those profits – no matter what role she plays. If community property is "couple profit" regardless of role, it must become "couple responsibility" regardless of role.
But shouldn’t we hold a man more responsible if the financial operations for which he was assigned role responsibility get into legal trouble? Sure, if he systematically falsifies information despite his wife’s questioning But if the married man is held more responsible for finances that go legally awry, then the married woman should be held more responsible for children who go awry. No one even suggests we make only the mother financially responsible for damage caused by the minor "since the father was unaware of what was going on." We would say his lack of awareness was pan of what created the delinquency. An unaware father is considered negligent, not innocent.
When a child goes awry, not only are both parents equally responsible but, practically speaking, the man usually earns the additional money required to pay damages. No one tells the mother, "You yelled at your husband for criticizing your mothering, so he backed off – so now you are responsible for the half million dollars of liability incurred from your son driving without insurance. You, mother, can either pay or spend forty years in prison." So the man pays when there’s a mess up in the male role or in the female role
Community property without community responsibility reinforces tradi tional sex roles: it encourages women to assign their husbands all the financial risks. By saying "You sign that legal document" or "You sign the check," she can avoid the downside of prison but receive the upside of profits. If he makes a fortune through tax evasion, inside trading, drug dealing, or a Fonzi scheme and gets away with it, she shares the profits. If he gets caught, only he goes to prison. In its present version, communin’ property is equal rights without equal responsibilities. Which is not equality.
When a woman senses her financial innocence will allow her to share a profit margin but not a prison cell, she is usually unaware how her innocence makes him more likely to become guilty than he would had she been involved in the finances. The greater her financial innocence, the more the financial burden falls on him and the more likely he is to handle that burden by flirting with the boundaries of the law. Just as, if he never paid any attention to the children, his “innocence” would make her feel more overburdened and abusive to the children. Few judges have looked at this connection between her financial innocence and his financial guilt.
When a wife’s financial innocence is accompanied by financial pressure, a husband is an accident waiting to happen. As he feels the psychological pressure for a larger home, he first tries something marginally legal. If it works, expectations rise and he soon feels a new pressure (to send the kids to a better college), so he tries something //legal. If he gets caught, he doesn’t tell the court: "I felt this psychological pressure from my wife, Your Honor. I had this feeling of learned helplessness.’ " If he did, he would be laughed out of court
Both sexes sharing community property but with male-only responsibility returns us to an era of woman-as-child. It makes family teamwork dependent on female innocence rather than female equality. It returns us to the Stage I family in which the division of labor led to a division of interests. When both sexes share property and share responsibility, we have an integration of labor and an integration of interests – a Stage II family with Stage II teamwork A Stage II family unit And a Stage II united family.