It has been nearly four decades since the Supreme Court ruled that spousal support must be applied equally to men and women, but courts still award it to women far more often than men.
The times, they are a-changin’ – but not quickly or significantly.
Spousal support judgments were awarded in one out of every four divorces in the 1960s, said Judith McMullen, a professor of law at Marquette University in Wisconsin.
That number has dropped to about one in 10 divorces today.
Three percent of men in divorce cases receive spousal support, a figure that is up 0.5 percent since 2000, according to the 2010 census. The census found that about 12,000 men receive spousal support, and 380,000 women receive it.
An American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers survey of its 1,600 members in 2012 found that 47% had noticed an increase in the number of men who receive spousal support, according to Reuters.
The fact that women are the leading earners in 40% of households leads some to believe that there are plenty more men who are eligible for spousal support, but don’t get it, according to Forbes.
Many family law attorneys find that pride, coupled with the conventional assumption that men are the providers, deters many men from staking a claim to spousal support that is rightfully theirs. Men seeking spousal support should not be viewed as undignified, or something to be ashamed of, even though pop culture tends to portray men who receive spousal support as “kept men,” or as an anomaly that only those who were married to famous women can realistically expect to be awarded.
Here are a few examples of men who made the news in recent years for receiving spousal support:
- Professional tennis player Ryan Sweeting, who was married to Kaley Cuoco, one of the stars of Big Bang Theory.
- Director Guy Ritchie, Madonna’s ex-husband.
- Comedian Tom Arnold, former husband of comedian/actress Roseanne Barr.
- Benjamin Indra, who was married to actress Anna Faris.
- Coleman Laffoon, who is Anne Heche’s ex-husband.
- Makeup artist Ron Britton, who once was married to actress Kim Basinger.
Some of these men were awarded monthly spousal support, while others received one-time payments.
Divorcing men who are not the breadwinners in their families should remember that, like women who stay home to care for children, they contribute to a household in ways that are valuable and necessary, yet don’t generate an income. Think about those “Honey Do” lists filled with items that need to be fixed, lawns that need mowing, automobile oil that needs to be changed, and home exteriors that need painting. Many attorneys argue for their male clients that those items are deserving of compensation.
Spousal Support History
The Supreme Court decided in Orr v. Orr in 1979 that gender-based divorce statutes that stated only wives were eligible to receive alimony were unconstitutional. As a result, states revised alimony statutes to apply equally to men and women.
There are multiple examples of alimony reform happening, as legislators throughout the nation have begun work to establish calculation guidelines to determine alimony based on a marriage’s duration and both spouses’ income. The primary goal in many cases appears to be limiting permanent alimony.
In California, a couple can define or waive spousal support in a prenuptial agreement. Free help is available from a family law facilitator regarding many spousal support questions, according to the California Courts website. These professionals can help provide information and understanding regarding how long the support may last, as well as how it may affect taxes. They also can help calculate the amount of spousal support that is due or owed, as well as offer assistance in filling out the necessary court paperwork.
John Griffith is a partner at Griffith, Young & Lass Family Law, offering assistance and representation that guides their clients through the legal process and helps protect them and their families.