Alimony Awards Growing Less Common

December 17, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Here’s some good, albeit old, news on the alimony front (Money, 11/17/15).

It seems that, with women earning more than in previous decades, more of them are being ordered to pay alimony when they divorce.  And apparently that doesn’t sit well with them, so they’re fighting back.

Now that women are paying alimony more often, they are getting involved in advocating for change.

“It’s unfair for men to pay it, and unfair for women to pay it. But women are much more outraged by it,” said Ken Neumann, a founder of the Academy of Professional Family Mediators.

I hope he’s right.  The more people we have demanding alimony reform, the better.  Of course, as with so many articles of this sort, we’re left to simply believe someone who expresses an opinion.  Neumann cites nothing authoritative for his statement.

Still, I can see how he might be right.  Men tend to assume that they’re the resource providers to spouses and kids and so tend not to object too strenuously when they simply continue playing that role post-divorce.  Women make no such assumption, even when the role falls to them, so it’s no surprise when they have stronger objections to paying alimony than do men.


Unlike child support, which is common when divorcing couple has kids, alimony awards have always been very rare, going from about 25% of cases in the 1960s to about 10% today, said Judith McMullen, a professor of law at Marquette University. In one study of Wisconsin cases, she found it was only 8.6%.

That is indeed a noteworthy and salutary trend.  Just why the decline in orders for alimony should have occurred, I can’t say.  Perhaps it has to do with the greater equality in earnings between men and women.  Perhaps there’s now a greater assumption on the part of judges and litigants alike that neither spouse should be required to support the other when they’re not married or living together.  Or perhaps it’s due to an unspoken expectation that every adult needs to be responsible for his/her own needs.  Who knows?

But whatever the case, the article proceeds on assumptions much like points I’ve raised many times about alimony.

To address this, states like Massachusetts, Texas and Kansas restrict most cases to helping lower-earning spouses get back on their feet or get further education. The general consensus is that everyone should work, and the only individuals likely to get a longer-term award are those who are disabled or are in retirement.

 I would add that, in the event divorce occurs when a couple is far-advanced in years and unable to return to the workplace, alimony should be possible.  Plus, I would support an award of alimony of very brief duration to allow one spouse who’s taken time off work to get back to self-supporting earnings.  But those three – disability, old age and short-term orders to allow retraining – should be the only exceptions to a no-alimony rule.

Yet it is still heavily weighted toward men paying women. Only 3% of around 400,000 alimony recipients are male, according to the 2010 census, up 0.5% since 2000. Recipients claimed $9.2 million in payments in 2013 on their tax returns.

A bit of arithmetic tells us that not many people who receive alimony are reporting same on their tax returns.  After all, if there are 400,000 recipients, $9.2 million in receipts would mean that each received $23 per year on average.  So clearly, something’s amiss with the accounting.

I’ve long been interested in how much wealth gets transferred via alimony.  To that end, I’ve emailed Professor McMullen.  I’ll let readers know when I get a response.

In the meantime, it looks as if the alimony situation may be improving, as it should.  It’s an artifact of bygone days and should mostly be scrapped.

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