Every time I read a story about some celebrity woman taking her husband all the way to the bank and back with alimony on top of child support, I can’t help but stop and ask, what are you being paid for exactly? I fully understand the history of spousal support. Throughout the centuries of stay-at-home mothers and housewives, women would have essentially been in the poor house if they didn’t receive financial assistance from their ex-husbands due to societal beliefs about a woman’s place being in the home. But newsflash: it’s not 1950 anymore, and for that reason I find spousal support a difficult financial obligation to justify in this day and age.
Alimony, of course, is no longer just a price men pay for being the breadwinners in a relationship that’s gone south. In the 1970s, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against gender bias in alimony awards and a small increase in the number of men seeking such payment was seen. Although there is still some stigma associated with the idea of a women supporting her ex-husband, as we see with men like Gabriel Aubry who wasn’t even married to Halle Berry, some guys have no problem with a woman fronting their lifestyle. We’ve known for years most ex-wives of successful men take absolutely no issue with making a man pay for her needs long after they’re out of the picture.
The idea of making someone pay is what alimony has been reduced to in a lot of ways. Outside of “no-fault” states, sort of the understood obligation of having to pay alimony is that you are the one who caused the breakdown of the relationship, now it’s going to literally cost you, quite possibly for the rest of your life. While the rules vary from state to state, in a lot of cases, being married for 10 years entitles you to permanent alimony until the day the payor dies. That’s a big price to pay for failing in a relationship. If the woman was the one who did wrong, oftentimes her right to claim alimony is seen as fore-fitted. I know most laws are based on simple moral standings but the reasons a couple decides to end their marriage and establishing right and wrong in a divorce isn’t exactly as cut and dry as murder, for example. It seems a little odd the law can penalize someone for perhaps not making the best choices in their relationship, even if they don’t necessarily impact the overall social order.
The other part of spousal support is the idea that the dependent spouse should be able to maintain the lifestyle he or she became accustomed to during the marriage after it ends—at the cost of the financially stable spouse. My question is why? Divorce isn’t one of those things that happens over night. In the time that both parties are giving depositions and going through the course of litigation, ideally there is plenty of time to, I don’t know, find a job. It’s not as though someone can spring divorce papers on you tonight, and you’ll be out on the street tomorrow. And as far as maintaining a certain standard of living goes, I feel that’s one of the perks of being a dependent spouse that goes out the window sort of like having someone to cuddle up next to at night. Sure, it was nice to enjoy fine dining seven nights a week and have a maid and a housekeeper while you were married, but if you can’t afford those things after you part ways, I would hardly consider that the end of the world. It’s no wonder tons of marriages end up to be nothing but financial contracts in many situations, look at the way divorce is handled.
The state of today’s economy is one factor that makes me think spousal support may still serve a purpose. With so many people struggling to find jobs, it would be unfortunate to be a stay-at-home spouse and find yourself suddenly divorced and unable to find employment. However whatever assistance is provided should be temporary. Rehabilitative alimony, as they call it, which is support given to a lesser-earning spouse for a period of time necessary to acquire work outside the home and become self-sufficient, should be the standard in spousal support cases, not the exception. In life there are some mistakes that you have to pay for forever, but I don’t think a failed marriage is one of them, especially when there is likely no one thing that can be pinpointed as the ultimate cause of the breakup. More than that, there is simply no excuse for any able-bodied person not to work and support themselves like any other single American has to do. If you want to live a certain lifestyle you need to go out and make it happen not wait for the check from someone else’s hard-earned living to roll in.
What do you think? Is spousal support still necessary in this day and age?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic
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