When it comes to handling divorce cases, the issue of alimony is one of the most hotly contested issues. Alimony is a monthly payment from one spouse to another, designed to help the partner with the lower earning potential to maintain a reasonable lifestyle until he or she is able to make appropriate changes. Determining whether one spouse is entitled to alimony, also known as spousal maintenance, as terms of the dissolution of a marriage is a question that differs from case to case. Each state, each judge, and each couple’s individual situation may warrant different consideration, meaning there is rarely a straightforward formula for coming to terms on an alimony settlement.
The concept of alimony extends all the way back to the time of the Babylonians and is even referenced in the ancient Justinian code. The modern-day approach to alimony has roots in early English law, where divorce was not granted unless extreme circumstances were involved. If a man wished to leave his wife, a legal separation would be granted, but no divorce. In recompense, the man was still required to support his wife and children in the same way he would had a separation not occurred. It is important to note that because women were not primary wage earners, women could not apply for a separation decree unless she had been abandoned by her husband. Women were also not expected to pay alimony.
When divorce became common in the Western world, this tradition of alimony continued. Prior to 1970, it was still the case that men were the primary wage earners in the family, and divorce would leave a woman largely incapable of caring for herself or her children. Even if a woman worked outside the home, she typically made a fraction of her husband’s income. Therefore, alimony and child support were seen as a husband’s obligation to care for his family until his wife could find means to support herself, or more likely, remarry.
Since 1970, views on alimony have changed considerably. While the option is still there to protect women who have put their careers on hold to care for children, alimony is typically not necessary if both partners are steadily employed. The exception is when one partner makes a significant amount more than the other, and the state does not apply the law of community property, where marital assets are equally divided.
Gender is no longer the deciding issue in alimony, and child support is treated as a separate issue in divorce. Women who earn significantly more than their husbands may be ordered to pay alimony, although such cases are still uncommon. As more states move toward a position of equality and more couples sign pre-nuptial agreements, the necessity of alimony is less prominent.
Article provided by the Cantor Law Group an AV rated law firm by Martindale-Hubbell. As named partner of the Cantor Law Group, David Cantor has years of experience and is very well respected as a Divorce Lawyer in Phoenix, AZ. The Cantor Law Group handles all aspects of Family Law from divorce to adoption to child custody issues.