Alimony (also known as spousal support) has become a dirty word, with many states rewriting divorce laws that do away with permanent alimony. For example, Massachusetts’s new alimony reform states that if a marriage lasted 15 years, the dependent spouse will receive alimony for only ten and one half years.
To keep anyone from claiming gender bias I’m not going to use the word woman, instead I will refer to the spouse receiving alimony as the “dependent spouse.” That is only fair since it is quite common today for men to give up careers and stay home to raise the children, keep the home and promote their wife’s career goals.
In decades past it was normal for a man and woman to marry, the woman would stay home and “keep house” and promote her husband’s career. It was the woman’s job to support her husband and his choices and once there were children, to do the lion’s share of the child rearing. It is easy to see why; in the case of divorce a woman would be awarded permanent alimony given the fact that she had never developed a career of her own.
It is also easy to see why those in favor of limiting alimony awards after divorce believe that there is no longer a need for permanent alimony. Marriage and the roles a husband and wife play in a marriage have changed.
Women are more likely to go to college and build their own career before choosing to marry. Couples are choosing to focus on their careers before having children which means that in most cases both the husband and wife have viable incomes of their own instead of one being dependent on the other financially.
But, what happens once there are children born into the marriage? Are couples any different today than they were in the 50s, 60s and seventies? No they aren’t! According to CBS news, "Eighty-five percent of women are staying home either full-time or part-time." And, in some cases mothers are choosing to continue working while fathers stay at home with the children.
In other words, the majority of couples are still making the emotional choice to have one or the other at home with the children and in doing so making one or the other financially dependent on the breadwinning spouse.
Given that simple fact, one has to ask why there is a need to limit alimony awards during divorce. If a mother or father gives up a career and stays home to raise children for 18 years, they lose their ability to re-enter the work force and earn at the same rate their spouse earns.
It only makes sense that a spouse who chose to stay at home would not be able to recover their earning ability after a divorce. Why should that spouse be penalized financially for something both spouses decided was best for their family?
These new laws aren’t taking into consideration that you can’t put a valuation on parenting and marriage. The breadwinning spouse, the one who chose to maintain a career will work until retirement at which time that spouse will draw from a retirement account for the rest of their life.
Why is their work outside the family any more valuable than a stay-at-home spouse’s work inside the family? It isn’t, and for this reason permanent alimony should be awarded on a case-by-case basis according to a couple’s situation and not based on broad sweeping laws that apply to all marriages.
When Should Permanent Alimony be Awarded?
- If the breadwinning spouse in a long-term marriage (15 years or longer) unilaterally decides to leave the marriage, the dependent spouse should be awarded permanent alimony.
- If a dependent spouse is left to care for children on their own, is unable to find gainful employment and is in danger of a drastic lifestyle change permanent alimony should be awarded.
- In any situation where one spouse is in danger of suffering financial destitution due to a lack of marketable working skills after divorce, that spouse should be awarded permanent alimony.
According to CNN.com, “The Alimony Reform Act of Massachusetts is too broad, and other states should beware. Lawmakers motivated to please special interest groups would be wise to remember they represent the public interest, not only the interests of wealthy men with lobbyists.”
I couldn’t agree more! When deciding alimony the focus should not be on the desires of special interest groups or the wealthier spouse but on the needs of the spouse who stayed home and the ability of the spouse who continued to build a career. It really is that simple.