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Spousal Maintenance: Does Gender Matter?

Spousal Maintenance: Does Gender Matter?

By: M. Scott Gordon

Who typically pays alimony, or spousal maintenance? According to a recent article in the American News Report, many Americans continue to operate under the assumption that men usually are the payers of spousal support in the event of divorce, while women tend to be the payees. Given that social changes related to divorce and women’s roles at home and in the workplace have shifted dramatically in the last couple of decades, does the assumption have any truth to it?

Men Pay More Alimony Than Women

Believe it or not, statistics show that men still pay a surprisingly high amount of the spousal maintenance payments that exist across the country. Based on numbers from the 2010 Census, about 400,000 people in the country received alimony or some form of spousal maintenance. When we look at the gender breakdown, the numbers are shocking: only 3% of the people who received spousal support were men. To put that number in perspective, men constitute only 12,000 of the total 400,000 people receiving support.

Yet what’s even more surprising is that this number might represent a significant increase from previous decades. To be sure, a survey conducted in 2012 by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers suggested that nearly 50 percent of those surveyed had “noticed an increase in the number of wives paying alimony.” Could it be that those 12,000 men receiving alimony actually represent a higher number than what the courts used to see?

Several recent cases in various states have emphasized that women who have “substantially more income and assets than her husband may be required to pay alimony.” Indeed, the recent shift in Illinois guidelines to determine the amount of spousal maintenance suggests that more women may become the payers.

Determining Spousal Maintenance

It’s clear that gender has been a factor when we reexamine alimony trends—men tend to be the ones paying, and women tend to be the ones receiving the money. But how significant are the historical issues that have resulted in this gender divide? And can gender continue to be a predictor for spousal support trends?

Historically, women weren’t the primary earners in the family. Indeed, many would stay at home and act as caregivers to children. Since women tended to “earn” in these different ways, they didn’t always have a substantial income when it came time for divorce. As such, judges have been able to consider factors like the duration of a couple’s marriage and whether one of the spouses stayed at home during the marriage—historically speaking, the wife—so the other spouse—historically speaking, the husband—could advance his career.

But these historical trends, in many ways, seem to be things of the past. More women have careers, and more men are making the decision to stay at home and raise the couple’s children. As such, we may see the spousal support percentages shifting even more in the coming years.

Spousal support can be a contentious issue in Chicago divorces. Even though Illinois lawmakers have attempted to streamline the process of determining the amount of spousal support awarded by adopting new guidelines, it’s very important to discuss your case with an experienced Chicago divorce attorney. Contact the professionals at M. Scott Gordon & Associates for assistance in your case.