It used to be the case that when a couple divorced, the woman could expect to receive alimony, often referred to these days as spousal maintenance. The assumption was based on the realities of the day: Men were usually the sole “breadwinner” in the family; women stayed home to take care of the kids or simply didn’t have a job outside the home. Therefore, alimony was often necessary to make up for the vast disparities in income and earning potential after divorce.
We are currently seeing many changes in alimony laws in states around the country. Critics of the practice say that it is antiquated and unnecessary. They cite statistics showing that dual-income households are now the norm, and that wives sometimes are the higher-income spouse in a marriage. So is alimony on its way out?
The answer, thankfully, is no. We say “thankfully” because spousal maintenance is still a very necessary tool to ensure that one spouse does not become financially destitute as the result of a divorce. And although women still make up the vast majority of alimony recipients, men are sometimes awarded alimony as well.
Some states are changing alimony laws to do away with “permanent” alimony or to limit it in other ways. Judges in Illinois, however, still hold considerable discretion over what kinds of spousal maintenance claims are awarded, to whom they are awarded and under what circumstances.
The simple fact is that some couples still pursue the sole-income model with one parent working outside the home and one parent working at home to raise the children. Even if money is tight, the high costs of childcare make the stay-at-home parenting model a financially attractive prospect.
If the couple decided together that one spouse would take herself (or himself) out of the workforce to be a stay-at-home parent, that spouse’s earning capacity will likely be much lower even if they re-enter the workforce later on. As such, alimony makes sense in these types of situations.
Alimony is not dead and gone, but it tends to be much more gender-neutral and case-specific than it was in the past. If you feel like seeking spousal maintenance is important in your divorce, please make your wishes known to your family law attorney.
Source: Forbes, “Stay-at-Home Mom Facing Divorce? Don’t Expect Alimony,” Emma Johnson, Oct. 27, 2014