The Paradox of Alimony for Males

When it comes to child support, the law is gender blind. “What is good for the goose is good for the gander, this is how family law works,” said Laura Wasser, the California attorney who represents singer Kelly Clarkson on her high-profile divorce.

Although the Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that alimony was gender neutral, Wasser said women were still surprised that they were providing spousal alimony. “What amazes me is that so many smart and cultured women don’t know they have to pay,” said Wasser, declining to comment directly on Clarkson’s case.

Clarkson and Brandon Blackstock, an entertainment agent, split in 2020 after seven years of marriage. Despite a prenuptial agreement recently upheld by a Los Angeles court, Blackstock was awarded a temporary monthly spousal support of nearly $ 150,000, half of his original claim. (Although he stated that he intended to quit the entertainment industry to become a full-time rancher on Clarkson’s Montana property, she was awarded the ranch under the couple’s marriage contract.)

In addition to the monthly spousal support paid by Clarkson, Blackstock also receives approximately $ 45,000 per month in child support, despite the fact that Clarkson was granted primary custody of their two children.

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That may seem like a lot, but according to documents filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court, Clarkson’s monthly income is $ 1.9 million. She follows other female stars whose severance payments have been much steeper: Madonna, Elizabeth Taylor, Rosanne Barr, Kirstie Alley, and Janet Jackson all paid huge amounts for their divorces.

The public reaction to the split was not favorable to Blackstock, who was referred to on Twitter as “Parasite” and “Opportunist” under other non-printable names. A feeling was reflected in many of the comments: “What kind of man is suing his ex-wife for spousal support if he is perfectly able to maintain his lifestyle on his own salary?”

Some of the shock over such settlements could be influenced by preconceived notions about gender, according to Alexandra Killewald, a Harvard sociology professor who studies the effects of unequal income on relationships. “Our culture expects men to be the main breadwinner, and there are simply more opportunities for women to work part-time or take time to raise children,” said Killewald.

Another reason men are given alimony may surprise because it doesn’t happen that often.

According to a 2019 study of the census data by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research group, an average of half of U.S. households are led by women. While national statistics on alimony payments are not tracked, Michael Mosberg, a New York-based attorney and former chairman of the family law division of the American Bar Association, said that despite an increase in the number of husbands staying at home, far more women than men seek and receive spousal support.

“The law is gender neutral and written blindly, but that is not always the case,” said Mosberg on his own behalf. “Now more women are working in prestigious positions and more husbands are staying with the children, but men who receive support are still the exception rather than the rule.”

Judges often scrutinize men more closely during their application for assistance, reflecting the bias that believes men are, or should be, breadwinners, said Brendan Hammer, a Chicago-based attorney. “Judges can also ask for a work journal to prove the husband is trying to earn what he used to do or even a living wage,” he said.

Elizabeth Lindsey, president of the American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers, said in her experience that judges have often given men less support for shorter periods of time while expecting them to return to the job market faster than women.

“There is a growing trend away from long-term alimony,” she said, noting that in Georgia, where she practices law, courts can still provide lifelong assistance. “Overall, spousal support is designed to rehabilitate and retool the under-earning or unemployed spouse,” added Lindsey.

Men who ended up in a dependent position say they were there for various reasons.

When Glenn Smith married in 2014, he was stepparent to two teenage boys. His wife, a tax attorney, is the couple’s high earner, and he soon gave up his career as an insurance salesman to take care of the boys, he said. The relationship broke up in 2020 and the divorce took place in early 2021. He receives $ 2,000 monthly spousal support for two and a half years.

“I worked hard for seven years: I went shopping, cooked, drove the children and took care of the house,” he said. “This small monthly support gives me the freedom to restart my career.”

Dax Roggio, a video editor and designer, married his longtime girlfriend in 2014, separated in 2019, and finalized his divorce in 2020.

His wife, a lawyer, was the family’s top earner, and when she became pregnant with the first of their two children, he was an obvious choice to stay at home. In their divorce, which was brokered, both agreed that custody of their children, now 8 and 5, would be 50:50, and that Roggio would receive alimony and alimony.

It took the couple some time to agree on the duration of the payments, but they agreed that Roggio would receive three years of maintenance, a period of time that “gives me the chance to grow my business while maintaining the flexibility to To spend time”. with my children, ”he said. “I’m not ashamed of maintenance, I wouldn’t trade the time I had with my kids for anything, but that doesn’t mean it was easy.”

Hammer said pride can be a problem for men when it comes to maintenance claims, as they often view the support of a former spouse as emasculating. To avoid the embarrassment of dependency, equity and assets can be balanced in other ways, including one-time upfront payments. But such buyouts involve risks.

“You might be paying more than would have been paid over time,” said Kelly Frawley, a New York-based attorney, who added that monthly spousal support ends if the payee lives with a new partner or marries a new partner.

Pamela Tracy is an attorney with the America Divorce Association for Men, a Detroit law firm specializing in the defense of men’s rights. She often seeks support from her clients, but in her own divorce, which was settled in 2009, she was asked to pay her ex-spouse five years of alimony. During their 15-year marriage, she was the main breadwinner and often the only breadwinner.

Her husband was looking after her four children, who were between 4 and 11 years old at the time of the divorce. But the division of labor was unclear: she said that in addition to a lot of housework, she still handled most of the children’s social, medical and educational needs. While the court sentenced her to five years of spousal maintenance, after two years she took full-time custody of the children. After that she paid neither child nor spouse maintenance.

“As hard as it was writing those checks, it was fair, he needed money to start his own life,” said Tracy.

Recent changes in family law have further disrupted the balance of child support payments. After President Donald Trump’s 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act came into effect, alimony for the paying spouse is no longer tax deductible. Instead, the recipient now receives support as tax-free income.

Some think that the entire support system is flawed. “Nobody wants to pay child support, but women hate it ten times,” said Emma Johnson, author of The Kick-Ass Single Mom, whose blog Wealthysinglemommy addresses economic problems for divorced women. Johnson believes spouse support prolongs problems for everyone involved.

“It’s hard to move on when you are reminded of your grudges on a monthly basis,” she said. “Equal rights mean equal responsibility, why is someone paying someone else’s rent these days?”

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