Are Alimony Awards Gender Biased Against Men?
We Take a Look at the Alimony & Spousal Support Landscape in 2017
What do you picture when you hear the word “alimony“?
Who do you see paying the money and who do you see receiving it?
Alimony was instituted when societal norms were different. Couples had to be married in order to live together, men were generally better educated than women, and men were the primary breadwinners. Women were less educated. They were mainly home-makers and stay-at-home mothers. Financially, they depended entirely on their husbands and a divorce would likely leave them destitute.
Flash forward to 1979; Orr v. Orr, the Supreme Court established that there should be no gender bias when it comes to who pays and who receives alimony. It’s been nearly 40 years since the Supreme Court’s ruling. Is society catching up with the law? The word has changed, and “alimony” is now called “maintenance” or “spousal support”, but have the cultural norms behind the words changed? Are more men actually requesting alimony? And of those who request it, are more men being awarded alimony?
Spousal Support and Gender Bias in 2017
The Facts About Gender Bias of Alimony Awards in Today’s World
According to the 2010 census, of the 400,000 people receiving post-divorce maintenance, 12,000 (or 3%) were men, up 0.5% from 2000.
Alternate Headline: 97% of all Alimony and Spousal Support awards are going to women.
In a 2012 survey of its 1,600 members, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that 47% had seen an increase in the number of men receiving spousal support (according to Reuters). Although the number has probably grown since then, many family law experts seem to agree that things are changing, but they’re changing very slowly.
Some gender stereotypes and cultural traits die hard.
Many men build their self-confidence around being self-sufficient and having the ability to get back on their feet after divorce.
Even when they are faced with financial constraints, and they are eligible for maintenance, their pride tends to prevent them from asking and fighting for spousal support. According to many experts, there is still a cultural aura of shame around men who receive spousal support.
Sometimes, attorneys can be the reason that more men don’t receive spousal support.
A law degree doesn’t necessarily exempt some lawyers from their own human biases. Some simply do not consider that their male client may be in need of, and deserving of, spousal support. They don’t raise the issue with their client or they are unwilling to fight out the issue in court.
In addition, some family lawyers believe that in some parts of the country, there still are some sexist judges who will not easily order a woman to pay spousal support.
And yet, 40% of households are headed by female breadwinners, which suggests that more men could receive spousal support. However, some sources maintain that women do not pay spousal support without a contentious battle.
With shifting roles of men and women in our society, societal views are changing, too. Some experts may contribute to changing the way spousal support is perceived altogether. In a series of posts on alimony, Emma Johnson, personal finance columnist for Forbes magazine, argues that alimony today should be eliminated completely.
She gives to main reasons to support her argument:
- Without alimony, each able-bodied person would be forced to become financially responsible for themselves.
- Alimony is a relic of a marriage that no longer exists, it keeps former spouses somehow tied to each other and prevents them from really moving on.
Life happens. Children happen. And they are often a major game changer.
Some parents, men or women, may still decide to take time off work to raise their children, or they may have a special needs child that requires full-time care. Extended time out of the work force may impact the care-giving parent’s career – how deeply will depend on their skill set, their line of work, and the duration of the time off. If the marriage ends, and the stay-at-home parent needs time to get back into the job market, shouldn’t the other parent help? Shouldn’t there be laws that make sure this help is available, at least temporarily?
And, even if there are no children, if a person has put time and skills, in other words “value”, into making a home a home (cooking, cleaning, etc.), shouldn’t allowances be made in the divorce to help that person get back on their feet?
More food for thought and continuing re-evaluation.
Related Article: Alimony: Until Death Will You Pay!
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