The End of Alimony

Alimony is not a feminist issue–the end of alimony is.

Why should I pay a single penny of our combined income to a woman who is younger than me, who therefore is at no disadvantage in the workforce because of her age, but believes that she deserves the same standard of living as her ex-husband at every period in his life, even though he works harder than she does ? For six years, she has been draining him like a vampire.

So-called “second-wives” (C’est moi!) are making a push for a change in alimony laws according to an article in Time (May 27th issue with Jolie on the cover). Rather than essentially having two combined incomes when you marry, these second marriages are often enslaved to the alimony of the first wife. Alimony laws don’t (and conceivably can’t) take into consideration all of the factors that ideally would determine how much alimony a divorcee, female or male, deserves. There is a big difference between the end of a marriage of a couple in their fifties and sixties in which the wife most likely stayed home with the children or maybe worked part-time, and marriages a generation later, where women have college degrees and careers. The article focuses on younger new wives not wanting to pay for older, divorced first wives. I have some sympathy for the first wife in that scenario. If you are 50+ and never worked, it would be impossible to find a job that would support any kind of satisfactory lifestyle. The new wife probably has a college degree and will just have to accept that part of her new husband’s financial landscape is a first wife who built a life with him when they were young and stayed home for 1-3 decades with children. Assuming the husband makes considerably more than the first wife, it is equitable for him to see to the first wife’s financial stability.

The article focuses on this constellation of older first-wives and younger second-wives, when the situation may be entirely different. For example:

I am 5+ years older than the first wife.

I have an advanced degree. This does not make me particularly smart, but it means I went to school for a long time and I did it because I wanted to be able to take care of myself. I bled for it. It didn’t come easy. I lived alone in strange places and jumped through lots of hoops.

I took care of myself and my family for over ten years. I put my ex-husband through school.

She has a college degree.

She did not put her husband through school. When she stayed home with the kids, she didn’t cook or clean or transport. He worked through school.

She had a steady job for several years before they divorced and still holds this job.

She refuses to work in the summertime and has not gone back to school to get a degree to improve her own finances.

Why should we indefinitely pay her a substantial amount each month? Why doesn’t she live the life she earns? Just because she was married to a man who goes out and accepts responsibility and earns more? When they are the same age with equal opportunity?  [Of course, child support is a separate matter altogether. In this case, the child support gets subsumed into her overall funds, and we pay for the children’s basic needs also.]

“The End of Alimony” in Time Magazine says that states are already changing their laws. Kudos to the sane states (go Kansas, Massachusetts, and Utah!) that factor in the length of the first marriage and award alimony for a period of time no longer than the marriage. Or, there are states that say after ten years the ex receiving alimony (female or male) should have made a transition and be able to stand on his or her own.

My husband was married to his first wife for seven years. She’s had alimony for just about that long. Time to turn off the spigot.

I was married for fourteen years and didn’t want alimony (wouldn’t have gotten it anyway, since there was no real discrepancy between our incomes).

Feminism means that we recognize there are still inequities based on gender and that we believe these should be addressed and so we act to create change. In the case of antiquated alimony laws that don’t fit a world in which more women go to college than men, it is time for women–if they want to be treated equally–to take care of themselves and not rely on the notion that a man who once married you is responsible for your financial well-being until you die. If we want to fight against  gender inequality where it really exists, we have to be honest and be willing to say when the issue has nothing to do with gender. It is time that alimony laws respect women and award the spouse who earned considerably less during the marriage an equitable alimony to be paid for the same length of time the marriage lasted. Beyond that, let everyone get on with their lives and live the life they earn.

~Wanda

 

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4 Comments

  1. my3tots says:

    Benevolent sexism is still sexism :S Glad to hear some states are progressing.
    Sadly, lazy/ incompetent lawyering prevents people from hammering out a more equitable divorce settlement agreement. It would be helpful if states put limits in place, rather than force people to be at the mercy of their lawyers.
    If it makes you feel any better (it won’t), I know a guy who thinks he “deserves” to be a stay at home dad while his second wife works to provide for their six children and pay his child support. His defense?: Women do it all the time. Fair is fair.
    If we want men to become feminists and treat us as equals, we’re going to have to surrender some of the benefits we’ve been given simply because of our gender. In the words of Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a’changin’.”

  2. Mojo says:

    Oh my, those really are huge differences–and like you, I am also 5+ years older than my partner’s first wife, who has always had a college degree and (except for 2 years) full employment. She also has a husband (her second marriage began the same day as her divorce) who himself has a full-time job, and she has parents who bought her a house (whereas my parents had nothing to leave their children). How could such things not be taken into account when determining who owes whom how much? This is also an issue for life insurance payments. Currently, the one child those two had together is slated to inherit more in the event of my partner’s untimely death, whereas our two children inherit less. We have never been able to resolve the tension around which child should receive how much as it depends on their age, the earning potential of the surviving parent of each child, etc.

    • Wanda says:

      Thanks for your comments! Comparisons are telling, from state to state, as well as between the specifics of the particular situations. Of course, the latter is the difficulty for the courts. There is no way for the law to reasonably be expected to take all factors into consideration, but it sure would be nice if it could. At a minimum, it seems to me that no one should pay alimony longer than they were married. As a rule of thumb, maybe that would help differentiate between the 60 year old housewife who now would truly have difficulty entering the workforce in a self-supporting way (and who presumably stayed home and raised children) and the 36 year-old with a college degree who was only married for a few years and has a job/career.

  3. jennifer says:

    the law in TN limits alimony to 5 years, never lifetime payments, at some point women are expected to take care of themselves (or secure another husband if they are incapable of self care, lol) …

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