Is it unfair that women have to pay men spousal support sometimes?

Posted on Oct 31, 2022 by Katie Carter

No one wants to pay spousal support. No one. No man, no woman, no one, wants to pay money each month to help support and maintain their ex partner.

It used to be that only men could be required to pay support to their ex-wives. It wasn’t sexist, either, because in previous decades, women didn’t have anywhere near the rights they enjoy today. It wasn’t until the 70s, for example, that women could get their own credit cards or mortgages in their own names. For a long time, the standard was that only a man worked outside of the home, while it was ‘a woman’s place’ to work within it.

Though there are still a lot of things that need changing, the transition from ‘alimony’, which a man paid, to ‘spousal support’, which either party could be ordered to pay to support their former spouse, is an outward recognition of the ways in which women’s roles have changed.

…But have they, really?

I was in a conversation about spousal support the other day, and another attorney said to me that women are particularly reluctant to pay spousal support. Like, they have trouble recognizing that it could go both ways and, in her case, that it was going against her. That she’d be the payor, not the payee. Women just couldn’t accept it, she said.

I was kind of surprised. And, the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to address it. For anyone coming here, reading this, I want you to hear it loud and clear.

I don’t think that women can’t accept paying spousal support. I think that they can’t accept supporting their exes like a man would have supported a stay at home wife when they didn’t get a stay at home wife out of the situation.

In my experience, the lesser earning men – the men who ask for spousal support from their wives – are generally losers. They’re in some kind of perpetual voluntary underemployment situation (consider looking into an argument on imputation of income) and, while they work and earn less than their spouses, that doesn’t mean that they feel compelled to pick up the slack at home.

I think we can all agree that the domestic labor in the home is work. But for the women who find themselves married to significantly lesser earning husbands, they often find that they do the work, earn the money, and then STILL come home to do the domestic labor. It’s not like there’s a trade off in responsibilities; the men still lazily let their wives manage all of the work in the house and relating to the children, but also fail to earn a livable income.

In the opposite situation, a woman who had stayed home – in general, though there could be some exceptions, I just haven’t seen any – would have taken on a different set of responsibilities. She would have been raising and educating children, taking care of the pets, cleaning and cooking, gardening, or whatever. Just because you don’t work, because you’re a stay at home mom or whatever other way you want to describe it, doesn’t mean you’re not working.

From what I’ve seen, though, the similarly situated men find ways to not work at all, and still to make their partners responsible for virtually 100% of what goes on in the home, as well as managing their own professional careers.

It’s not that women can’t stomach the idea of paying spousal support. It’s that they don’t see why, after having supported a loser for so long, they could be judicially required to continue to do so. They find that, after all the poking and prodding and encouraging and supporting that they did during the marriage – to no avail, I should add – they STILL have to continue to support a ne’er do well in perpetuity.

It is insulting. When I think about how I’d feel if I came home from work to a husband, lounging and playing video games, surrounded by empty plates of food and grumbling about when dinner would be ready, it makes my blood boil. To imagine doing that for weeks or months or years, and him not being able to land a job or keep a job or support the family in any meaningful way, while still requiring me to do all the work at home, and THEN ask for spousal support – well, it’s ridiculous.

Though I do think it’s difficult to make the argument, I would try it. I would look into getting employment experts, into making an argument about division of labor around the home, and even trying to distinguish between the role of a stay at home mom/wife and what you had in your husband. Ultimately, it’s up to what you can show the judge – and, in this case, I think the statutory factors at least work in your favor.
Spousal support is related to a weighing of three things: (1) need and ability to pay, (2) weighing the statutory factors, and (3) the duration of the marriage. All of those things are going to inform (1) whether spousal support is awarded at all, and then, if so, (2) for how long, and (3) for how much.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind paying spousal support if I had enjoyed a marriage to a stay at home mom who cooked and cleaned and raised my kids – but, then again, I probably also wouldn’t be getting a divorce from that kind of person, so there’s that.

Spousal support cases are complicated and messy, and you’re definitely not out in left field if you find the idea of paying him – especially if he was lazy, entitled, and underemployed throughout your marriage – repugnant.

It’s worthwhile to look into your specific circumstances to see whether you could make an argument against his being awarded spousal support. After all, in this kind of case, you hold a lot of the cards because, unless and until an award of spousal support is awarded, you make all (or most) of the money, and have the most flexibility as it relates to ongoing litigation.

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