The dialog we have to take care of divorce and alimony

A question about maintenance was asked at a workshop I recently presented on financial equality in marriage. A vigorous discussion began between the various age groups present. Women and men in their twenties and thirties felt that maintenance was a thing of the past, an outdated legality that no longer made sense. The elders and some in the second marriage disagreed. They believed that alimony still had its place in divorce proceedings and was created to serve ex-spouses, mostly women, who had no personal income or very little income. Finally someone asked me, “How do you see maintenance? I just made a bet with my husband on your answer. “

Oh the pressure! We hope my answer earns you the bet!

Child support and child support are a one-way street, but with many twists and turns along the way. It’s an imperfect system, but it’s the only one we have right now. As with any law, there is always room for improvement and revision, and many family court judges are helping to make some necessary changes by reinterpreting the basic laws regarding alimony as a “male only” burden. In the past it was assumed that in the event of a separation or divorce, the husband would support his ex-wife by providing child support. If children were involved, he was also required to pay child support, which was a separate matter.

The maintenance payment can be traced back to the Babylonian code of Hammurabi. The term maintenance comes from the Latin word alimōnia, which means food and nourishment. It was created to insure the wife (or “discarded” wife), housing, food, clothing, and other necessities after the divorce.

Alimony has an interesting story that was basically a somewhat derogatory help to women who were viewed as the “weaker sex”. The law in the United States is based on the laws of the ecclesiastical courts in England. Since the husband was the sole owner of all marital property and the wife was dependent on him for a living, the English ecclesiastical courts consistently ruled that the husband had a duty to provide for the wife even after the divorce. Otherwise it would become “a burden to the people”. Heaven forbids that there should be stressful women!

While a woman is no longer considered a lesser partner in a marriage and marital property is evenly divided after the divorce, there is still a strong feeling that a man owes his ex-wife a financial obligation. This is discussed in family courts. There are people who try to cheat the system and that makes it bad for everyone involved.

With women and men working outside the home, the notion that anyone with a well-paying job must get an extra income just because they were married once is outdated and ridiculous. If both partners are able to support themselves, extra money from a former spouse, other than child support, is unnecessary and punishable. However, there are exceptions to when alimony payments are required to a former spouse.

Nobody should have to come out of marriage to lose financially. When one partner is financially more secure than the other, some form of alimony should be paid on a gradual basis. This applies to both women who pay child support and men.

If a child is under school age and the mother or father must be a home-staying parent, alimony is adequate housing until that parent is able to work away from home.
Supporting a child should be the responsibility of both parents. If one is doing significantly more than the other, the breakdown of support should show it. Instead of a 50/50 support contract, it could well be 75/50 or whatever is fair. A woman who earns more than her ex-husband three times a year can give more money to support the child. Fair is fair.

Maintenance should be a responsibility for equal opportunities. While the majority of dependents are still women who stay at home and men who pay for them, the system is rightly changing. Gone are the days when a healthy, able-bodied woman was supported for life just because of the woman in front of her name. And that also applies to every healthy man.

Maintenance, in the purest sense of the law, was always intended to help and protect a former spouse who was unable to look after himself financially. Child benefit is a necessary obligation on parents. Neither of them should be abused or used as punishment during divorce proceedings. The relationship reality here is that alimony, despite anything else that can negatively affect the divorce, should be the one part that is fair and just to both parties. Nobody should be the winner or the loser.

© 2020 Copyright Kristen Houghton

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