It has been approximately 30 years since the United States Supreme Court ruled against gender discrimination in alimony. However, there have been very few men who have benefited or stepped forward to talk about that entitlement.
The issue has been discussed primarily among celebrities or well known sports figures. In fact, during Joan Lunden’s divorce, the former television personality, when she was ordered to pay alimony to her husband of $18,000 per month in 1992 the question she asked was “Why the courts don’t tell a husband, who has been living off his wife, to go out and get a job is beyond my comprehension.”
This demonstrates the double standard that exists with regard to the perception rather than the reality of receiving alimony. The purpose of alimony is for both spouses to be able to maintain a standard of living as a result of the efforts of either spouse or both which accrued during the marriage. That has always been the underpinning of alimony awards to women and, as there have been societal changes it appears as though the acceptance of the reverse has become much more difficult.
Statistics demonstrate that fewer and fewer men are in fact rejecting any discussion of seeking alimony. In my particular practice, and particularly after the major change in our alimony laws in New Jersey, men do not appear to be ashamed of discussing the issue when there is a striking imbalance in income. Although in 2006 the percentage of men receiving alimony was only 3.6%, it is clear that that percentage has risen as more and more marriages feature a primary caretaker who is female.
In many modern marriages there is a joint decision for one party to help support the carrier advancement of the other spouse often times to one party’s detriment. It is analogous to a wife supporting a husband through medical school, internship and residency. It is obvious, that sacrifices are and can be made by either party. Oftentimes when this occurs based upon the lower income earner’s salary alone, they are unable to maintain a marital standard of living. Certainly, these men are often referred to as deadbeats and simply living off of their ex-wife. This is as far from the truth as a legitimate alimony award to any wife. The standard and analysis is and should be the same. As many feminists argue properly, “We can’t assert rights for women and say that men aren’t entitled to the same rights.”
Although many men don’t want alimony viewing it as an embarrassment, others do not have that issue and are willing to pursue the benefit. Unquestionably, many judges although well versed and understanding of the “gender-neutral” aspect of alimony are often times reluctant to provide the same type of award to a husband as would be given to a wife. It becomes the attorney’s responsibility to demonstrate what the standard of living was and the sacrifices made as well as the opportunity to earn on the part of the husband.
The bottom line is that more and more marriages involve women are highly successful and career oriented. How the marital lifestyle develops as a result of that success must be closely scrutinized by marital counsel.