Twenty years ago it was almost unheard of for a husband to get alimony, but now it is no longer so unusual. In about one third of two income couples, women earn more than their husbands. In a few cases the wife is wildly successful and out earns her husband dramatically. There are also more men who become “house-husbands”, and stay home caring for the household while the wife becomes the breadwinner. In these situations the factors that generally support alimony for wives are reversed making alimony to men more likely. There are two principal facts that support alimony. First is that one spouse is economically dependent on the other. And the second is that there is large disparity in the income of the parties. Particularly in long term marriages in which the family’s high standard of living is based on one spouse’s income, alimony is likely. I typically now see one or two cases a year in which there is a compelling case for alimony to the husband.
There are some interesting emotional and social differences when men receive alimony. First, notwithstanding gender equality, there is still some stigma attached to men “living off women”. There continues to be an expectation that men provide for their families. Women who earn more than their husbands often resent his inability to produce more income. In every case I have seen in which the husband gets alimony, it is the wife who is seeking the divorce. And in these cases the wife typically expresses disapproval of the husband’s ability to provide.
When men claim alimony because they have been househusbands, there is often a dispute about why he stayed home. He argues that it was a mutual decision. She argues that it was because he could not hold a job, he always lacked ambition or he was just lazy. She will also argue that although he stayed home, he did not do much homemaking. She claims that not only did she go to work every day, but had to come home and do the shopping, housework and parenting while he wasted his time. These are angry cases.
An important difference when men receive alimony is how long it lasts. Alimony ends upon remarriage and usually ends, or is at least reduced, upon cohabitation. Although alimony agreements are usually the same length of time for both men and women, men tend to remarry faster than women. About eighty percent of men remarry within two years of divorce. This is in sharp contrast to the seventy five percent of women who remarry within ten years of divorce. One imagines some difficult discussions when a man has to explain to his girlfriend that not only can’t he consider marrying her. He cannot even live with her because he is supported by his ex. It is difficult to imagine women sticking around very long after that discussion. Although women receiving alimony face the same problem, I have seen few women pass up a real opportunity to remarry in order to retain alimony. But men receiving alimony face a more severe stigma and a man who wants a normal social life will be hard pressed to successfully explain to his girlfriend why their relationship is so limited.
For this reason, it is common to see the alimony discussion in these cases turn to lump sum alimony. Here, in lieu of conventional monthly alimony, a single sum is paid at the beginning to secure a release from the further obligation to pay alimony. Lump sum alimony has advantages and disadvantages. Generally, lump sum alimony is discounted for three reasons. First is the time value of money. A dollar to be paid ten years from now is worth far less than a dollar to be paid today. The second discount reflects the fact that lump sum alimony, unlike conventional alimony, is paid with after tax dollars and is not taxable to the recipient. The third basis of discount is the fact that if the recipient remarries, the lump sum alimony does not have to be repaid. But a drawback to lump sum alimony is that it requires a large chunk of capital not found in many divorces. So for most middle class divorces it is not an option.
Monthly alimony for men will only increase in the future as more women out earn their husbands. But I expect that these men will collect alimony for a shorter period of time than would women because of men’s tendency to remarry so soon after divorce.