5th Jul 2015

“Man tries to stop paying alimony over ex-wife’s polygamy”

An upstate judge nixed a divorced man’s bid to cut off alimony to his ex-wife when she joined a “Big Love”-style marriage — because polygamy is not legal in the Empire State. Dr. David Hunsinger split from his wife of 19 years, professor Patricia Hunsinger, in 2009. Their separation agreement said David, 54, who earns a higher salary than his ex as a family physician in Binghamton, had to pay the Ithaca College art professor alimony until 2023 or until she remarried. In July, David asked Justice Philip Rumsey if he could stop the payments because Patricia, 54, had “entered into a polygamous marriage with Dr. Kenneth Hill and Janice Hill.” To complicate matters, the two couples were not strangers. David Hunsinger and Kenneth Hill did their medical residencies together.

In a diary entry written prior to her divorce, Patricia confessed about “her desire to be married to Kenneth Hill and of her plan for a polyamorous relationship with both Hills,” according to court papers. In the alimony proceeding, David told the judge the threesome lives together in Ithaca and that Patricia wears a “ring comprised of three intertwined bands that was given to her by the Hills,” the Nov. 19 ruling states. Patricia also says in a January 2012 e-mail to David that she wanted the Hills at their daughter’s wedding because, “I am married to both of them,” according to a copy of the message obtained by The Post. But when it came to giving up alimony, Patricia didn’t want to admit she was remarried.

The judge sided with the ex-wife, ruling that “New York allows a person to have only one spouse at a time; a marriage is absolutely void if contracted by a person who is already legally married to another.” Michael Stutman, head of family law at Mishcon de Reya, said the decision was striking for taking on questions related to atypical families like those portrayed in HBO’s “Big Love.” “I have never seen anything like this outside of Utah, a woman getting paid [alimony] and living out a ‘Big Love’ lifestyle in her twilight years,” Stutman said.

David will have to keep paying support — unless the threesome moves to Utah, the only state where polygamous cohabitation is legal. David’s attorney, Anthony Elia, is considering an appeal. The decision “allows [Patricia] to say that her illegal conduct is a defense to the case,” Elia said. “I don’t understand the logic.”

This article from the New York Post is a bit confused, which is not surprising. Outside of a certain socially liberal bubble, most people have never heard of polyamory. They confuse religious polygamy with polyfidelity (i.e. secular polygamy), and fail to realize how common it is among educated coastal liberals. The only thing unusual about this situation is the continued alimony payments. That said, I agree with the judge’s legal reasoning. This is one of the reasons full marriage equality would help many more people than just those directly involved in alternative relationships. No-one lives in a vacuum – certainly not poly* people.