There is a common misconception that many women have about alimony and long-term marriages. It is often believed that if you divorce after a long-term marriage, your ex-husband will be financially responsible for you with court-ordered permanent alimony or spousal support.
The reality is that alimony laws are state-specific and each state handles the matter in a different manner. A few decades ago, it was common for a woman to be given permanent alimony after a long-term marriage. That is no longer the case.
Alimony in the 21st Century
The standard in most states today is rehabilitative alimony, which is paid for a certain duration and gives a woman time to “rehabilitate” herself financially post-divorce. Specifically, this means taking college courses if she has no marketable skills or re-entering the workforce and rebuilding her career post-divorce. Basically, it is support while she tries to “get back on her feet.”
For example, Texas and Mississippi award alimony only to marriages of 10 years or more and only for a short period of time. Utah will not grant alimony past a time period equal to the duration of the marriage, and Kansas curbs its durations at 121 months.
The last state in the country to continue to award long-term or permanent alimony was Massachusetts. As of 2011, the state reformed their alimony laws to catch up with the rest of the country establishing a maximum duration for spousal support. Today, alimony payment timelines are based on the number of years a couple was married.
For instance, if a couple was married less than five years, the duration of alimony could only be half the number of months of the marriage. If a couple was married for six to 10 years, the maximum term alimony could be awarded for would be 60 percent of the time they were married. A judge would only be allowed discretion to award alimony indefinitely in marriages over 20 years.
Alimony reform has swept the country and, like it or not, expectations should be kept low when it comes alimony and spousal support after a divorce.
The Great Alimony Myth
According to Beverly Willett, Vice Chairman of the Coalition for Divorce Reform,
“The financial risk stay-at-home parents face when it comes to alimony is even more troubling. When no-fault was instituted, permanent alimony awarded to spouses who had given up their careers to become stay-at-home parents began to fall out of favor, permanent alimony being deemed incompatible with the clean break idea behind no-fault.”
And therein lies the myth, that if you are a stay-at-home parent who gave up your career to raise the children, you have a right to permanent alimony. According to Ms. Willett, if two parents agree to one parent staying home, then that agreement should be legally binding after the divorce. In reality, without continued spousal support, former stay-at-home parents become financially responsible for themselves once the divorce is final or the short-term alimony runs out.
“If a woman has been in a long-term marriage, and she has either been out of the workforce for decades or has an income that is substantially less than her husband’s, I believe she needs—and deserves—alimony in order to maintain a post-divorce lifestyle that’s at least somewhat comparable to the lifestyle she enjoyed during the marriage.”
Many would agree that a spouse and parent should not be allowed by the Family Court System to leave their family with no means of financial support. But divorce laws are now changing direction as far as alimony is concerned, and as a result, I encourage all women to make employment choices that won’t mean one day ending up a victim of the great alimony myth.