Welcome back to The Alimony Chronicles! In this second part of a four-part series, we will be looking at spousal support from the woman’s perspective, past and present.
Once Upon A Time
In Part 1 we looked at the ancient origins of alimony. We peered into the evolution of family law in Europe and the United States. Back in the day, a married woman had no rights to income or property. She was not allowed to sign contracts or own property of her own. She was regarded as no more than property in some societies.
There were no actual divorces in ancient times. But there were provisions in place allowing men to “put away” a wife and live separately from her. Women who had been “put away” had no rights or power. Husbands had all the rights and privileges in a marriage. Responsibilities of providing for the family (regardless of living arrangements) fell on their shoulders exclusively. For women, it was a matter of survival.
Family law changed dramatically in just the last few decades. Not long ago, most married women stopped working after marriage, and certainly after children were born.
Women Relied Entirely on Husbands
Alimony and child support for your mother or grandmother’s generation was still a matter of survival. Most women lacked prospects and could not reach financial independence. Not until 1974 could a woman apply for credit without a man co-signing for her. Without that, she couldn’t own a car or buy a home.
Married women seeking employment were limited in the types of work available and were paid lower wages than men. Prospective employers asked questions about a woman’s pregnancy status and family plans. Up until the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnancy was a legal and valid reason to fire female employees.
So yeah, most men getting divorced in those days could expect to pay out the nose, potentially for the life of the wife unless she re-married. Alimony was inevitable – like death and taxes. So, of course, spousal support in popular culture was an easy target for late-night talk show jokes and movie parodies.
No Fault Divorce Was a Game Changer
Jokes about gold-digger women aside, family laws began changing as the idea of “no-fault” divorce was introduced. It allowed a husband or wife to file for divorce without having to prove the other spouse had committed a serious act harmful to the marriage.
From a woman’s point of view, there were good and bad things about no-fault divorce. One side argued that women needed to be able to get out of abusive marriages without having to go through the trauma of challenging the abuser. The other side argued that no-fault divorce was bad for women because if the husband was at fault for the failed marriage, he could file for divorce and walk away scot-free, without having to pay alimony.
Between the mid-1970’s and mid-1980’s most states approved some form of “no-fault” divorce.
There was a surge in divorces, but as argued by the opponents of no-fault divorce, support was no longer automatically awarded to the wife.
Thanks to the changes in family and employment law, we say many more wives entering the workplace in the 80’s. They had their own income and financial independence. In the years following, permanent alimony and extravagant awards to the wife were less and less common.
Of Course, There Were Exceptions
Unlike wives of prior generations who had no real opportunities to work outside the home, today’s women are better educated and more likely to be gainfully employed.
Alimony is no longer a guaranteed award in favor of the wife. No longer held back in the professional realm, women can be as successful as men.
That doesn’t mean that an angry wife with a smart attorney won’t pull out all the stops to get as much alimony as possible – especially if the husband was unfaithful. Remember that thing about a woman scorned? Some things haven’t changed!
Permanent financial support may be awarded to a wife who is unable to work due to chronic mental or physical illness. But permanent support is very unlikely to be awarded to a wife capable of working outside the home.
A stay-at-home mother can seek alimony for as long as it would reasonably take to update her skills and find a job. But those payments will end eventually.
A Memorable Alimony Settlement: Trump v. Trump
Who can forget the Trump-divorce-fueled media frenzy in the early 90’s? The real estate tycoon Donald Trump, and his then-wife, Ivana Trump, raged on in court fighting for an agreeable divorce settlement.
Ivana walked away with a mind-blowing settlement that reportedly included:
- A $10 million lump sum payment,
- A $50,000 per month housing allowance,
- $350,000 per month in alimony payments, and
- Other benefits and properties.
Ivana had a cameo role in the 1996 movie, First Wives Club, as a direct result of the extensive media coverage. Her only line in the film became her iconic slogan, “Remember girls, don’t get mad. Get everything!”
None of it came without strings attached, though. The divorce settlement included a “gag” order. In it, the former Mrs. Trump agreed not to publicly discuss her marriage to The Donald. In exchange, she’d receive a multi-million dollar lump-sum payment. Breaking the “gag” order could cost her alimony and a housing allowance!
She Can Bring Home the Bacon
These days, it is not uncommon for a wife to earn more money than her husband. When there are young children at home, it may be the dad who is the stay-at-home parent!
Under our modern family laws, alimony is not as common as it used to be. But when spousal support is ordered, the wife could be the wage-earner expected to pay some form of financial support to her husband!
And guess what, guys? There are more and more women in this generation that find the idea of receiving support payments offensive. They’ll refuse it even if they live in an alimony-friendly state that allows for more lenient awards for spousal support.
Women who pride themselves on being independent and successful may choose not to seek support for themselves, even if they pursue child support. These women say they want to be able to show the world they can take care of themselves.
Sometimes it is just a matter of the woman looking to end any connection with the man once the divorce is final, regardless of her financial situation.
More to Come
Up next in our series, we will explore the how’s and why’s of alimony from the husband’s viewpoint, and our last chapter in the series will look at the nuts and bolts of spousal support and how it affects both parties. Stay tuned!
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