In true crime we often don’t see the wood for the trees. It’s always useful to get some perspective on what we’re looking at, and to make sure we’re not too close to or familiar with our case, by looking elsewhere [either the real world or other analogous true crime cases].
This post by Ralph Oscar does that. It not only humanizes Shan’ann and Chris Watts financial circumstances, but personalizes how they may have responded to them:
I was pondering the financial angle, which I feel is the wild, drunken elephant in the room in this case. I was talking to a new acquaintance online, who revealed that he was twice divorced. Something he said brought to mind the Watts case, and so I’ve been quizzing him about the finances of divorce
He and his first wife divorced in a state with *permanent* alimony. Even though his ex now has a really good tech sector job, he still must pay her alimony. He’s asked if they can change this; she says no. Who would turn down free money? He remarried, had two daughters. His financial situation has never recovered – he’s been unable to set aside anything for his two daughters’ college. He lives paycheck to paycheck, and meanwhile, there sits his first wife, who is earning good money, receiving permanent alimony. He describes the two divorces with child support/alimony leaving him with “virtually nothing”. Some of his observations:
“It’s virtually impossible to stop or modify the alimony as long as she wants it. I’d attempt to talk to her and she’d say things like ‘would you stop taking money if you didn’t have to?’”
“It can get pretty bad financially when you’re busting your ass at work and doing well but still taking home as much as if you were working for minimum wage. The wife getting alimony … lives in a paid off home with her mom.”
“Meanwhile I can’t save to retire although I can modify or stop the alimony when I’m ready to. The catch 22 is that I can’t save to retire but that’s the only way to stop it.”
“Many angry men and a few women in my shoes. Very frustrating but you need to make it work somehow.”
“I can’t honestly relate to the idea of killing someone to avoid giving them money but I do understand how another might get there. I also can’t honestly say I’d mourn her passing if that did happen. I’ve joked about loosening the lugs on her car wheels but that’s just out of frustration, etc.”
“I haven’t been able to recover financially. I’ve gotten raises at work and the dollar amount of my commissions increase but never enough to pay bills without having anxiety about next week or next month.”
“I had two daughters with my second wife and haven’t been able to save anything towards college.”
“The person making the payments becomes nothing more than a source to enable the other to be ok with no consideration regarding its affect on the payer.”
“The ex who receives the alimony seems to feel fully entitled to my money to this day. If I bring it up in any shape or form she will move away or discontinue the conversation immediately.”
While Colorado is not a permanent alimony state, in 2014 a new law went into effect that prescribed a formula for how to determine spousal maintenance payments: 40% of the higher-earning spouse’s income minus 50% of the lower-earning spouse’s income. Shan’Ann would finally have incentive to come clean about how much she was *not* making on her “business”, or at least there would finally be an accounting of just how much it was *costing* her to make that income amount (which means that’s not the actual income). If she’d been making $80K/yr in actual income, they’d have been paying their bills. That’s all there is to it.
While my acquaintance would never countenance murder (he has two daughters from that first marriage), he is clear that the financial fallout of his two divorces, particularly that first one with the permanent alimony, has changed his life for the worse. His perspective is that the financial situation for the Watts family was likely a very important factor in Chris Watts’ deciding to do what he did.
If Chris and Shan’Ann had won the lottery the day before the murders, I’m confident there wouldn’t have been any murders.