It’s the punchline of a thousand bad movie jokes…but what does it actually mean? What does it entail?
What It Means
The word “alimony” is derived from the Latin alere, meaning “to nourish”, and the concept is simple: it is the legal obligation of one spouse in a marriage to provide financially for the other after separation or divorce. If it helps, think of your marriage as kind of like a cell phone contract; you can break that contract, but you’re gonna pay for doing it.
In the past, the paying spouse was invariably the male spouse…but as social norms have changed, and with the advent of same-sex marriage in many states, that’s no longer always the case.
So what does that mean for you? Will you have to pay support? Can you ask for spousal support? The answer is: it depends. Financial support is not an automatic right, but either party can ask for it during divorce proceedings. In many cases, the terms of financial support can be handled privately between both parties. But if you and your spouse can’t come to an agreement, the courts can step in, and that’s where it gets complicated.
State Laws Vary on Alimony
How support is assigned, and how much and how long, varies wildly depending upon where you live. Each state is different and your divorce lawyer will be intimately familiar with the laws in your jurisdiction. In many states, spousal support is only awarded if the marriage lasted over ten years or if you have children. (In that case, spousal support is still handled separately from child support, which is a whole other massive deal.) Some states factor marital fault into support proceedings: if you cheated on your wife, you might end up literally paying for it.
Some states have limits on how long spousal support must be paid; in Kansas, for example, payments cannot last more than ten years and one month, while in Utah, it can’t last longer than your marriage did. On the other hand, if you live in Mississippi, Massachusetts or Tennessee, you might be expected to pay until the day you die or your former spouse dies or gets remarried.
Some states have alimony pendente lite, which is basically “separation spousal support” that is paid from one spouse to another during the separation period, until the divorce is finalized. If you’re a house husband or stay-at-home dad and your wife kicks you to the curb, you can ask for “rehabilitative support” from her, which will only cover you until you can get a job and a place and get on your feet.
Where and How Much
But let’s assume you’re the one who gets saddled with making payments. How does the court determine how much you’re going to be shelling out each month? Again, it depends on where you live, but it’s also going to depend on how much you make; the standard of living you provided for your spouse during the marriage; whether your spouse supported you at any point during your marriage…the list goes on and on.
And it’s usually not going to be cheap. Generally, you won’t be asked to pay more than you can afford and still cover your own bills, but it’s important to remember that most courts consider spousal support more important than voluntary debts (like credit card bills or car payments) and won’t take those into account, which might leave you in a tricky position. The one upside is that the federal tax system allows you to deduct spousal support when filing your taxes. (If you’re receiving support, though, it’s considered taxable income.) Negotiating court-ordered support is what your lawyer’s for, but you can also use this handy-dandy calculator to get a ballpark figure.
Try To Reach an Amicable Agreement
For childless couples, negotiating spousal support can be the nastiest part of divorce proceedings. In the long run, it’s going to be a lot cheaper and less painful if you and your spouse can negotiate the terms of alimony between the two of you, and come to an amicable agreement without bringing your lawyers (and their billing departments) and a judge into it. If you can find a way to make sure that everybody gets what they think they’re entitled to, for as long as they need it, it will make the transition out of the marriage that much easier.
Divorcing an addict comes with its own set of unique challenges, and requires specific strategies to address them. In the first part of this series, we discuss the prevalence of addiction as a leading factor in divorce, strategies for filing for divorce from an addict, and custody involving substance abuse. We continue with two remaining issues: Division of Assets and Alimony.
Division of Assets in Divorce with an Addict
Divorce laws are mandated at the state level. This means the laws in one state can be different than laws governing divorce in the neighboring state. It is crucial to always check with an attorney in your state of residence, or do your own research on your state laws, before taking action.
The Issue of Economic Impact
In many states, courts do not consider fault when making a judgment on division of property. However, in some states, a spouse’s behavior during the marriage is relevant, and a judge will consider a spouse’s substance abuse when dividing the marital estate. The legal category of fault that would apply if your spouse is an addict is “marital misconduct.” Currently, a majority of states will consider marital misconduct only if it has an “economic impact” on the marital finances.
There are a smaller number of states that are allowed to consider marital misconduct, such as the behavior of an addict, regardless if the misconduct had a negative economic impact on the marital estate. In states where martial misconduct is admissible as a consideration, the court has the discretion to award a larger share of the marital estate to the sober spouse.
Legality of Fault
Alcoholism itself is not usually considered fault. Since the medical community increasingly views alcoholism as a physical disease, it does not constitute a “moral failure” alone. What can be considered fault is the “economic impact” of the disease of addiction. Again, this is the fallout from an alcoholic’s chaotic behavior on the marital family and estate. DUI convictions, inability to stay employed, crashing cars, spending copious amounts of money on alcohol and alcohol induced spending binges can all be negative impacts that constitute fault under “marital misconduct.”
Generally, when divorcing an addict, drug abuse is viewed the same as alcohol abuse. Addiction itself is not likely to constitute fault, but in many states where fault can be introduced as a factor in division of assets, the court is free to consider any negative consequences of the addiction on either you and your family or the marital estate.
Simply put, the tangible effects of alcohol or drug abuse are a legal consideration in states where it is permissible to consider marital misconduct. For example, if your ex’s alcoholism limited her ability to contribute to the marriage financially and her behavior under the influence of alcohol had substantial negative consequences on the marriage, you would have a case to introduce marital misconduct with economic impact.
An addiction that will result in public scrutiny, possibly ruining your ex-wife’s reputation, career opportunities, and even putting her at risk for criminal prosecution, can be a handy bargaining chip in asset negotiations. Your ex-wife may agree to forgo a humiliating court battle and settle on favorable terms. It is advisable to discuss this option with your attorney. Not only will it save you time and money to keep the fight out of the courts, but it will keep any kids involved in the marriage from additional trauma.
Alimony and Addiction
Unlike with child support where the formulas for payments are clear and quite rigid, in most states, the amount and duration of spousal support payments are under total discretion of the judge. In fact, only about a dozen states even have general guidelines for calculating alimony. While a sympathetic judge could admonish your ex for the damage she caused with her addiction; there is no way to predict the outcome of a decision that is wholly in the hands of a judge. It is advisable to discuss with your attorney if it may be a better tactic to try and negotiate with your ex directly so you can avoid the risk of an unfavorable judgment.
While most states do not set guidelines for judges in determining alimony, there are a few factors that are commonly used to calculate a starting figure. The judge then factors in other circumstances of the marriage and arrives at an amount and duration for payments. Let’s look at some of the factors that come into play when divorcing an addict.
1. Need and Ability to Pay
If the court decides your ex-wife is entitled to support, the next step is to ascertain her need and balance that with your ability to pay. To do so, the judge may take into account:
- how the property is being divided in the divorce
- the standard of living during the marriage, and her ability to maintain that standard without your support
- each spouse’s separate income, assets, and obligations
- the length of the marriage (used more to decide how long support should continue and not the amount)
- whether you both lived together before you were married and whether the period of cohabitation should be included in the length of the marriage
- each spouse’s age and health
- the needs of the children, and if child care responsibilities affect your ex-wife’s ability to return to work
- whether the dependent spouse left the workforce to be a homemaker or raise children
- how long the dependent spouse has been out of the workforce and her marketable skills
- contributions that either spouse made to the other’s training, education, or career advancement
- Any assets that may be forthcoming in the future (such as a large inheritance)
- any additional factors the judge finds pertinent to the case
2. Earning Capacity
Beyond considering your actual income, a judge may examine your general ability to earn money. Let’s say you have a medical degree, but you gave up practicing medicine to pursue your passion for writing science fiction novels. The judge can “impute” to you the higher income of a medical professional with your same training. You would then be ordered to pay support in the amount consistent with your earning ability, and not with your actual income as a self-published novelist. The rationale for considering earning capacity is to avoid punishing one spouse financially for the other spouse’s decision to voluntarily choose a lower standard of living.
Just as with division of assets, fault can be considered in some states. You can argue that fault should be considered even if you did not file for divorce on the grounds of fault. If the court sees it your way, it can reduce support payments.
A judge may take a spouse’s addiction into account when determining alimony if she has depleted the marital assets to maintain her addiction. As with division of assets, a substance abuse problem gives you the upper hand, and often addicts will agree to terms which favor the sober spouse to stay out of court. While addiction does not automatically inhibit your ex-wife from receiving an equitable share of marital assets in a marriage, or from receiving a judgment for alimony, it may be taken into account and reduce the share of assets and alimony, perhaps considerably.
Divorcing an Addict in Treatment
Divorcing an addict can be tricky when it comes to support. In some rare cases, a sober spouse could be required to pay alimony to an addicted spouse to help with her treatment expenses. For instance, if her addiction was deemed to be the result of a mental illness, or to have led to a mental illness, you as the sober spouse may be ordered to pay any additional costs of treatment not covered by disability benefits.
Since in most states, alimony is based on a number of factors that are used to determine your wife’s needs against your ability to pay, if your ex-wife’s treatment needs are extensive, but your ability to pay is limited, that will be taken into account and help balance each other out.
Discuss options with an attorney, and you can likely figure out a settlement that will help your wife get back on her feet, and able to get and hold a job of her own, while ensuring the money will not be spent on alcohol or narcotics. Helping your wife overcome her addiction with a professional recovery program may be your best bet for ensuring that she can become economically independent, and even be able to help support her children, lifting the burden solely off you.
Wherever you live in the country, these online resources can help you find support and information for dealing with your wife’s addiction. You do not have to go through this alone.
(c) Can Stock Photo / Bialasiewicz
What do you know about alimony for men? Is alimony “gender neutral” just like custody should be? If you’re a stay at home dad, should you expect to be given the same consideration as a woman in divorce court?
Here we will give you the latest on alimony for men, what the trends are looking like, and the states most likely to be father-friendly when it comes to spousal support.
History Did Not Contemplate Alimony for Men
This isn’t the article to dive deep into the origins, past, present, and future of alimony. We’ve already done that at Guyvorce. One takeaway from that series is that the origin of alimony is all based on money paid from a man to a woman. The ancient origins of spousal support did not include alimony for men.
The origin, though, is well rooted in the past. But we as a society are past that. We’ve seen Susan B. Anthony fight for suffrage, we’ve seen bra’s burned, and the glass ceiling shattered many times in corporate America. So any argument tying alimony to its roots as a “just for women” thing is clearly outdated and irrelevant.
More Dads Are Primary Caregivers Then Ever Before
There are not real-time statistics available on the current percentage of alimony awards going to men, but we can extrapolate from stats that are a few years old to get a good idea. For example, according to the 2010 census records, only 3% of alimony awards went to men. But the numbers are growing.
We also know that in 2013, almost half of households with children (40%) were financially supported by female breadwinners. Of that group, 25% that are single mothers. That leaves 15% of married women providing or leading the income supply at home in 2013. More recent federal wage studies indicate that in married couples where both spouses work, 28% are households where the woman brings home the bigger paycheck.
Now that more women are paying huge chunks of their income in “manimony” they, too, are jumping on the alimony-reform bandwagon.
As of 2012, more than 2 million men were stay at home dads, almost double the 1989 measurement. These fathers were became the primary caregiver of their kids due to a variety of factors, including illness, disability, the inability to find a good paying job, and yes, because they want to care for their home and children.
Alimony and Child Custody Report Card for the States
Just as current statistics on alimony are hard to come by, state level alimony information is likewise difficult to nail down. For those states that do regularly consider alimony awards, though, the data on gender application are limited.
Again, some extrapolations can be made. For the purpose of this article, we are assuming that states that are father-friendly when it comes to child custody are more likely to be amenable to alimony for men who are the stay-at-home parent.
There is one category of states that stand out from the others in their award record of alimony and these are states that don’t usually award alimony at all. Texas, as an example, has a sizable child support calculation, but also rarely awards spousal support or alimony. North Carolina also is a good example in their exclusion of alimony in the event of adultery.
Alimony decisions are supposed to be independent of child custody decisions. Yes, child support payment amounts should take into account the dollars actually exchanging hands based on alimony, but whether to award either type of payment is independent.
Decades ago, when the tender years doctrine dominated custody decisions, the mother in nearly all cases was awarded custody of the children. That standard, thankfully, has been replaced with one that looks into the best interest of the children. At the same time, scientific studies have been performed over the decades’ worth of children that have grown up in divorced situations. These studies almost universally point to the fact that children that grow up in shared custody environments are better off than those with less time spent with one of the parents.
Even with these studies and shift in governing doctrine, though, not all states are doing well in their interpretation of best interest and the associated award of shared custody. The states that do well in shared custody awards appear to get it, and will likely do well at understanding how alimony should be awarded when the dad is the caretaking parent.
The National Parents Organization tracks effectively how well states are doing in making the right decisions for children during divorce through the states’ custody decisions. In their annual report, they cite six states as the best in keeping gender out of divorce decisions for custody, and are likely to be father-friendly for alimony, as well.
These top states are:
- South Dakota
Proposed Uniform Marriage and Divorce Statutes
Family law is determined by each individual state. Each state is responsible for their individual divorce standards and application of alimony, although there has been a proposed set of statutes pending since 1970 that would provide uniformity of state laws pertaining to marriage. Drafted by the Uniform Law Commission, the proposed Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act provide a template that may be adopted by any state for resolution of domestic disputes – including alimony and child custody – with consideration given to the following areas:
- Requesting spouse’s financial condition
- Time required for job training or education
- Standard of living during the marriage
- Requesting spouse’s age, physical condition, and emotional state
- Length of the marriage
- Ability of the other spouse to pay
Nowhere in the law is there a reference to gender. Therefore any award, or failure of award, that comes from these guidelines should be equally applied to both spouses.
Alimony for Men Advice
Even if your state is at the bottom of the list when it comes to alimony and child support, your battle is not lost. The number of women in the U.S. who are paying alimony to men is steadily growing. Alimony is designed to provide that bridge for one spouse to keep the households at a near-equal standard of living while the receiving spouse gets back into the workforce and financially independent. The need for the help is often driven by the amount of time the receiving spouse was out of the workforce, or untrained, based on joint decisions for the marital home.
This means that if you are the man in the marriage and are the one who stayed home to raise the kids for years and have been out of the workforce for a good period of time, you have a legitimate claim for alimony.
Regardless of your home state, if a divorce is likely, get proper legal counsel as soon as possible. Be sure to tell your attorney if you are the primary caregiver of the home and children, if your wife is the primary or only wage-earner, and if you gave up or deferred employment or educational opportunities to support your wife’s career goals. Alimony for men is the new normal in divorce court. Get what you, and your kids deserve.
Do you have first-hand experience with alimony? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Check out our series on The Alimony Chronicles, beginning with Part 1. And now’s the time to learn What Men Need to Know About Alimony and Taxes.
There are millions of stay-at-home dads.
Share this article on your social media.
(c) Can Stock Photo / VILevi
Welcome to the final chapter in our four-part series. So far we’ve established in The Alimony Chronicles that spousal support is the payment of financial support, either in a lump-sum or periodic payments, from one spouse to another during a legal separation and after divorce. In this series, we’ve looked at the roots of spousal support, and the effects on husbands and wives.
In this, our final chapter, we will recap our previous installments by taking a broader look at alimony – how it works today, and what the future of spousal support may look like.
Changes In Family Law, Divorce Rates, and Average Age of First Marriage
The 1970’s brought dramatic changes in women’s rights and family law. spousal support was no longer automatically granted to the wife. Gender discrimination in awarding spousal support was banned, so alimony was not just for women anymore!
Women entered the workforce in ever-increasing numbers. Pay scales for women began rising. Changes in divorce law, especially the enactment of no-fault divorce in most states, led to a short-lived jump in divorce rates. After a big spike, the U.S. Census Bureau information shows a general leveling off of divorce rates by 2009.
In the 50’s, men were marrying at around 23. By 2009, the average age rose to 28 for men being married for the first time. The age of first marriage for women rose from 20 to 26 for the same time period.
So what does that have to do with alimony today?
In Part 1 of this series, I mentioned that some states have rules for a judge to follow in calculating spousal support. In others, it is up to the discretion of the court. Other common factors include.
1. Ability to Pay
If alimony is on the table for either party, the first thing to be looked into is the person’s ability to pay. The court will determine how much is left from the spouse’s gross pay after deducting mandatory deductions like income taxes and social security.
Not everything coming out of a paycheck will be deducted by the court, so you can’t go by the amount of take-home pay. For example, if money is deducted from a paycheck for voluntary deductions or savings, those may not be considered mandatory deductions and will be included in the allowable total.
2. Ability to Earn
The court will look at the ability of both husband and wife to make a living. And not just how much the person is making now. There is a big difference between someone who can’t work and someone who refuses to get a job. The judge will look into that.
Earning capacity, the ability to make a living in the future, is an important factor in calculating spousal support. On the one hand, the amount of support to be paid is affected by the court’s idea of how much the payer should be earning over time. On the other, the court will also look into the ability and circumstances of the person getting alimony to figure out how long it should take for that person to become self-supportive.
Short-term or rehabilitative support is awarded for a set time period to allow the more dependent spouse to update skills and find employment. At some point the payments will definitely end, so the spouse on the receiving end is motivated to do what it takes to get a job.
In cases of real hardship, the person getting rehabilitative support can ask the court to extend the payment period. Judges will usually not grant an extension without proof of financial hardship. The goal is not to take advantage of the payer.
The paying party can ask to have payments stop before the end of the period ordered if the recipient becomes self-supporting ahead of the established deadline. It works both ways.
3. Custody of Children
While child support is a separate type of award in a divorce case, the custody of the couple’s children is taken into consideration by the court when awarding alimony. The judge may consider the age of the children, the number of children, and any special needs of the children. Also, depending on the circumstances, the court may also look at the cost of daycare if the custodial parent has to work. And if there is daycare available at all.
If the court decides it makes more sense for the custodial parent to stay home, at least for a while, there may be spousal support awarded.
Death and Taxes: Only Two Things Are Certain
Alimony payments stop when one or the other dies. Getting around this requires special terms to be spelled out in the divorce decree. However, if it was the person ordered to pay that dies, the receiving party who is owed unpaid alimony before the payor died can make a claim against the responsible party’s estate for funds owed.
As far as taxes go, spousal support has certain implications for both sides. While payors are eligible for a deduction in the amount of support paid, the recipient must also claim this amount as income. For an up-to-date expert explanation of how the IRS evaluates support payments, see our recent article, Alimony and Taxes, by Janet Berry-Johnson, CPA.
The Future of Spousal Support
Couples today are older, better educated, and more financially stable when they marry. The majority of married women work outside the home. Many of these women make as much or more than the husband.
Women are no longer seen as helpless and dependent. Staying out of the workforce to raise children doesn’t change this. The expectation is that most women are capable of supporting themselves after a divorce.
As in the 1970’s when the no-fault divorce was adopted from state to state, there is a movement growing today to reform legislation, or abolish alimony entirely.
A good example of dramatic reform is the 2014 bill signed by the Governor of New Jersey that made major changes to the way spousal support will be treated going forward in that state. The sweeping changes affect the amount and timing of payments.
- For divorcing couples married less than 20 years, the period for support payments will not be longer than the length of the marriage except in unusual circumstances.
- Spousal support can be ended when the paying ex-spouse reaches full retirement age.
- Support can be terminated if the receiving spouse starts living with a new partner, even if they are not married.
Another example of significant reform is playing out today in Florida, where there is a bill in play that would change Florida’s allowable support provisions. If passed, the new rules would require all judges to use the same set of formulas based on the length of the marriage and the couple’s income to calculate potential alimony awards, and also includes a provision to assist support payers with a way to determine if the spousal support recipient is avoiding work, or not working to his or her potential.
These are just two examples of the new wave of family law and alimony changes that will impact divorcing couples in coming years. Stay tuned to Guyvorce for divorce support and updates on the latest trends that will affect you.
Each chapter of this series can be read alone. But if you are new to the series, you may want to check out Part 1, where we looked at the earliest examples of family law from ancient times and how that carried through to laws today. Part 2 tackles the evolution of financial support for women. And Part 3 looks at the changing spousal support landscape from a man’s point of view.
Alimony is still a hot topic.
Remember to share on your social media.
(c) Can Stock Photo / zimmytws
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?
Share this article on social media.
(c) Can Stock Photo / fizkes
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!
Know anyone still supporting the ex-wife?
Share this article on social media.
(c) Can Stock Photo / gina_sanders