Welcome back to The Alimony Chronicles. We’ve come to the third of four parts. Today we’ll be looking at the impact of spousal support on men, then and now.
- Part 1 was about the origins of family law and the different types of alimony in place today.
- Part 2 tackled the evolution of financial support for women.
Yours, Mine – and All Mine
For much of recorded history, men were recognized as property owners. Not just the primary owners of real-estate, but agricultural produce, water rights, household goods, servants, children – and wives! These same laws also required a man to provide for his wife her entire life, whether he stayed with her or not.
Property laws changed with time. It became possible for women to own property, cash and land.
Unmarried or widowed women were allowed to manage their own assets. But most often a male relative was appointed to oversee a single woman’s holdings. She was a property owner in name only.
Once she married, her new husband assumed total control over his wife’s assets and property. He could dispose of them as he saw fit. It’s a doctrine called coverture. Coverture sounds crazy today. But it actually carried over into United States law, affecting alimony awards through the early 70’s.
Dollars and Cents
Property, family, and employment laws changed rapidly over the last 40 years. No-fault divorce laws were enacted throughout the country. And women entered the workforce in record numbers.
Data obtained from the 2012 census shows there were 82.9 million men and 74.8 million women in the workforce. Nearly half of all workers are women.
Today’s women contribute more to the household than ever before. They’re quickly becoming sole earners, too.
What It Means for Men
Permanent alimony (where spousal support is paid until either partner dies or the wife remarries) is no longer a slam-dunk for the wife. Today’s court-ordered support is more often rehabilitative or a lump-sum – and listen up guys – it doesn’t always get paid by the husband!
Alimony for the Husband
The old saying, “Sauce for the goose is good for the gander” is certainly true when it comes to spousal support. Factors influencing family law judges of the past no longer apply only to women.
When Men Should Get Spousal Support
If the marriage lasted less than a couple years, unless there are very extenuating circumstances, spousal support is not likely to be awarded to either side.
Generally, the longer the marriage, the better the chances that a judge will, at least, consider other factors that may warrant awarding alimony.
Income disparity has always been a bonafide reason for spousal support. It’s a prime example of why support payments are not just ordered to be paid by men anymore.
A wife who has a much larger income that her husband, especially if he has sacrificed employment or promotional opportunities to support her education or career during the marriage, may be ordered to pay alimony.
Standard of Living
While both husband and wife may be employed, the husband may have spent years working a relatively low-paying job while the wife’s income allowed the couple to enjoy a much more expensive lifestyle.
A celebrity example was the marriage of successful actress Kim Basinger and makeup artist Ron Britton. Kim’s career and income skyrocketed during the eight-year marriage. When they divorced, Ron reportedly received $12,000 a month in spousal support for an unspecified period of time. Celebrity marriages aside, judges will consider the all the circumstances.
It would be a radical change for the husband to end up leaving a well-appointed home with amenities to move into a relative’s basement! In situations like this, the husband may be awarded a lump-sum settlement and/or a term of monthly payments to level the playing field and help him get established.
There are more stay-at-home dads than ever before. Some men are just better suited to handle the challenges of child-rearing than their wives. And some women are perfectly happy bringing home the bacon.
In many families, either parent would be enthusiastic to be the at-home caregiver, but the wife has better employment opportunities or benefits so it makes financial sense for the dad to be home while she works.
Sometimes the at-home parent decision was influenced by the economy. After the 2008-crash, the housing and construction industry tanked. In harder hit areas, it was all men putting kids on the school bus every day, because the mothers were the only ones still employed.
Assuming the wife makes enough money for an award to be feasible, a man who has been an at-home parent is a good candidate for spousal support for a period of time to enable him to update his skills and secure suitable employment.
Feasible is a key word here, because a judge will not award alimony for either side if it there is simply not enough money to go around, especially if child support will need to be provided.
Do The Math
As you can see, the factors for a family law judge to consider when awarding alimony are not gender-specific anymore. Financial support is not awarded to punish one spouse or reward the other.
When it’s awarded, spousal support is determined based on the financial circumstances of the divorcing couple.
Today, the majority of married women are working. It is no longer unusual for the wife to be the primary wage-earner in the marital home. There are certainly more spousal support awards to men than a generation ago. But the frequency remains a small fraction of alimony awards overall.
Why aren’t more men seeking spousal support?
If the husband is the bigger breadwinner during the marriage, additional support for him may be out of the question. However, keep in mind that if the husband has full or primary custody of the couple’s children, the wife may still be ordered contribute to the children’s maintenance by way of child support.
Some men may still have the mistaken notion that financial support is only awarded to wives.
Some men may still have the mistaken notion that financial support is only awarded to wives. They just want to keep their head down and get the whole divorce thing over with as quickly as possible. They sign a no-fault settlement agreement provided by her side and consider themselves lucky they didn’t get nailed making monthly payments to her.
Male pride is a powerful factor preventing men from seeking alimony. In the privacy of the marital home, all things seemed pretty equal even if the wife has a much larger income.
Outside of the home is a different story. The idea of going into court and being described as the “dependent spouse” can feel emasculating, especially if the soon-to-be ex-wife already has a tendency to be insulting.
Hire a financial advisor who specializes in divorces to conduct a thorough financial analysis before entirely rejecting the idea of alimony. It may shed a new light on the subject!
Financial decisions in divorce negotiations, including discussions about spousal support, should be based on facts and sound legal advice.
And That’s Not All
Stay tuned for the last chapter in our series. We’ll look at the nuts and bolts of alimony and how it affects both parties. Don’t miss it.
Do you know any men who deserve spousal support?
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