When Joan Collins filed for an annulment of her 13-month marriage to Peter Holm, the news was not unexpected in Hollywood, famed for its here-today, gone-tomorrow romances. But when Holm announced he wanted Collins to pay him $80,000 a month in alimony, eyebrows were more than just raised. They were arched in disbelief.
Holm's request is the largest on record of a man asking for alimony from his wife, according to family law experts around the country.
"This is not just a figure I've thrown out to be outrageous. It was very simple mathematics with the computer," Holm told The Times in his first interview about the divorce case.
"I know it sounds extravagantly obnoxious. But if you knew my devotion to making this marriage work, you would think it was perfectly justified."
His First Marriage
Holm, who will be 40 in June, and Collins, 53, were married at a Las Vegas wedding chapel Nov. 6, 1984. It was the fourth marriage for Collins and the first for Holm, a Swedish former rock star who became his wife's business manager.
Marvin Mitchelson, the well-known Century City divorce attorney who is representing Collins and speaking on her behalf regarding the case, doesn't think Holm is entitled to any alimony. "I heard he was going to be asking for support, but I was shocked by the amount," the lawyer said. "It's the largest I've ever heard of anyplace. I think it's outrageous."
Mitchelson promised that it will be "hotly contested." On Thursday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge will hear Holm's request for a $150,000 advance to tide him over until the July 20 alimony hearing.
The Collins-Holm divorce is receiving more than the usual notoriety that accompanies any trial in which a TV star is involved.
It is being seen as an ideal test case of how far the courts will go to carry out gender-neutral alimony laws.
"You can ask for male alimony all you please. But if there's no deep pockets to shoot at, what's the point?" commented Harvey Golden, a Columbia, S.C., family law specialist for 32 years and chairman-elect of the family law section of the American Bar Assn. "That's why this case is so interesting."
Male alimony, or male spousal support, wasn't officially recognized until 1979 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Alabama's alimony law because it discriminated against men in violation of the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause.
At the time, a total of 11 states, including New York, had laws requiring that only wives can receive alimony payments. And it was widely regarded by courts in other states that men who asked for alimony were wimps, losers or gigolos for wanting to live off the earnings of their spouse.
High Court Ruling's Impact
But the Supreme Court decision on Orr vs. Orr meant that, for the first time in those states, men as well as women would have the chance to prove they are entitled to spousal support on the basis of individual need rather than gender.
While the Supreme Court ruling had no direct effect on California, which has always had so-called gender-neutral alimony laws, it nevertheless gave the idea a real psychological boost here and elsewhere. "I think the courts jumped on Orr vs. Orr because it shrieks of fairness," Golden explained.
There are currently no national statistics to show how many men have requested or received alimony.
But, based on anecdotal evidence, experts believe that many more men have been asking for it since 1979--and many are getting it.
Indeed, the issue is still so new that a 1983 Newsweek cover story entitled Divorce American-Style did not even mention male alimony, though it covered such hotly debated topics as prenuptial agreements and grandparents' rights.
Subject of ABA Gathering
But the subject was discussed last month at an ABA alimony enclave held in Austin, Tex., by the woman who organized the symposium--Louise B. Raggio, a Dallas, Tex., matrimonial law expert and a past chairman of the ABA's family law section.
Most discussions about alimony, Raggio said, still center on men who pay alimony, not receive it.
One reason is that, despite the Supreme Court ruling, it is still rare for a judge to award permanent or even temporary alimony to a man.
"It's harder with a man," declared Raggio, who has been asking for alimony for her male clients for the past 30 years.
Even Mitchelson, famed for his representation of women in celebrity divorces, has asked for alimony for some of his male clients. "But," he cautioned, "it's really a hard sell."
Robert D. Arenstein, a New York City matrimonial attorney who is chairman of the ABA's research committee for family law issues, has noticed that the courts are still reluctant to side with men on this issue. "There is definitely a prejudice by some judges against awarding men support."
Though alimony is rarely questioned if a man is disabled, the situation is "fuzzier" when lawyers try to get spousal support for a man who's out of a job or who's a "househusband" or who's not as wealthy or successful as his wife, experts say.