In today’s two-income families and successful women “breadwinners,” a Forbes magazine series on spousal support (alimony) concluded that of the 400,000 people in the United States receiving post-divorce spousal maintenance, only 3 percent were men.
While men are making strides in “winning” in the custody battles, the common practice still seems to be that in households headed by women, even though men are eligible, they do not receive it. I have represented men who legally had a right to spousal support in long duration of marriage but the parties, attorneys and even some judges are still sexist. I confronted an attorney representing the wife about this issue and stated, “If my client was a woman, you would think differently about spousal support,” and his response, “Yup, he needs to get a job.”
Gender equality in this area is a relatively new concept even though the law is suppose to be gender blind. A man is considered to be the breadwinner and could easily become employable. The idea of asking for spousal support is often times emasculating. But many men are now the stay at home parent due to the heavy constraints of the work of the wife. For some men it appears to be begging but to some it is a new era. I had a client that told me, “If women want it all then they have to be able to accept the consequences of it all.” Frankly, I agree.
Interestingly enough, while male clients typically will not ask for support even if they are legally able to do so. Moreover, female “breadwinners” will likely fight against having to pay support while the male “breadwinners” generally accept the fact especially if the wife was not employed that he would be paying for spousal support. The social stigma and bias plays into the idea that pursuing spousal support by men are “shameful”—again the attitude is that if he is healthy, he should get a job.
Clearly, the same mentality should also apply for a female but the reality is, that despite the gender equality strides that have been made by women, this area has been slow to follow. Yes, the law is clear that in California, a guideline spousal support is one way to calculate the order and the other factors set forth in Family Code Section 4320 are the others that the court must strictly review.
There is a trend to advocate for eliminating the need to pay for spousal support. Unlike child support, which is common when divorcing couple has kids, spousal support have always been rare, going from 25% of cases in the 1960s to about 10% according to Judith McMullen, a law professor at Marquette University. In fact, in one study in Wisconsin, she found out it was only 8.6%.
Now that women are paying support more often, they are getting involved in advocating for change. “It’s unfair for men to pay it, and unfair for women to pay it. But women are much more outraged by it,” according to Ken Neumann, a founder of the Academy of Professional Family Mediators.
Many are against the concept of permanent spousal support (in California, for those of marriages 10 years and over). As one 52 year old female dentist who lives in Florida but now lives in North Carolina and has been paying her ex-husband for 13 years states, “there’s no other contract where the liability continues after the contract ends.”
To address this, states like Massachusetts, Texas and Kansas restrict most cases to helping lower-earning spouses get back on their feet or get further educations. The general feeling is that everyone should work, and the only individuals likely to receive a long-term spousal support award are those who disabled or retired.
Any questions or comments, feel free to email me at [email protected] or call my office at 310-601-7144. Law Office of Carina Castaneda, 9701 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1000, Beverly Hills, California 90212
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