The Helpless Housewife, Part 4: What kind of spousal support is reasonable?

Both sides of this argument are compelling. There has to be some sort of support system in place to help ex-wives, especially when their lack of lucrative prospects is due to deliberate decisions made during the marriage. After a period of time, any skills that the first wife could formerly boat of become outdated and irrelevant. Especially with the rise of technology, certain skill sets are often required for even the most basic employment—and these skill sets are constantly changing and evolving.

At the same time, it’s not fair that wife number two should have to pay, years and years later, for the breakdown of a relationship she had no part in. The first wife should have some sort of responsibility for securing her own financial well-being, and shouldn’t be able to thwart the system simply by remaining unmarried or refusing to cohabitate with a person who is, for all intents and purposes, like a spouse to her. As life expectancy has increased and people are more and more willing to be in a relationship without a legal commitment, the reality is that permanent spousal support awards are a daunting thing for the people who end up paying them. Certainly spousal support shouldn’t continue for decades after a marriage ends, right?

So, should permanent spousal support ever be a possibility? As a divorce attorney representing women only, I feel strongly that spousal support is a critical aspect of the divorce process for many women. Whether spousal support is permanent or not, it is always awarded to a woman based on her specific need; it’s not like these women are getting rich while their husbands slave away.

Married couples should be free to make the decisions they feel are best for their families. If that decision means that either party must stay at home to raise the children, that is a decision they should be free to make. Likewise, if the parties decide that they would both prefer to work and provide more economically to their families, it is a decision that they should be free to make. All decisions do, however, have consequences.

It’s difficult to predict what might happen to spousal support in the future. What’s reasonable? Well, like anything else, it’s probably a more middle of the road approach than this article suggests, and certainly not unilateral or retroactive abolishment of permanent spousal support. In Virginia, at least, permanent spousal support isn’t something that is awarded willy-nilly. It’s awarded in a case where a number of criteria are met, but specifically where one party has a need and the other has an ability to pay. When a judge determines spousal support, he (or she) will also look at the thirteen statutory factors affecting whether a person is entitled to receive spousal support is undertaken and the length of the marriage in question. It’s not easily granted, and it’s certainly not granted except under specific circumstances.

Probably over time, spousal support will move towards something a little more similar to child support, mostly to avoid the possibility of completely different awards being made to similarly situated women. A degree of predictability would probably be the best and solution for all parties, because it at least creates a uniform system that is transparent and easy to understand.

Is this the solution? Only time will tell.

This post is based on an article from Time, “The End of Alimony,” by Belinda Luscombe.

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