Despite a 1970s U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring alimony to be gender neutral, most presume that following a heterosexual split, alimony will be paid by the man to the woman. Legally, they are supposed to be equally plausible. However, persistent gender pay gaps and traditional household roles have meant that men are statistically more likely to be alimony payers and women payees.
A 2019 study by the nonprofit research firm the Urban Institute revealed half of U.S. households are headed by women. With this has been an increase in stay-at-home dads, and thus, men who seek spousal support following a split. Per the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of American men receiving alimony nearly doubled between 1998 and 2008. It has continued to climb.
Yet our Bergen County alimony attorneys know it still sometimes comes as a surprise to divorcing women that they’d be asked to do so. Just recently, The New York Times detailed the alimony awarded to singer Kelly Clarkson’s husband - $150,000 monthly (half of his initial ask), in addition to $45,000 a month in child support, even though Clarkson has primary physical custody of their two kids. Although this might seem astronomical to most, consider that Clarkson’s monthly income was determined to be $1.9 million. The couple’s prenuptial agreement stipulated she would be keeping their Montana ranch, despite his vow to exit the music industry and become a full-time rancher. Other female celebrities have been ordered to pay huge spousal support sums, including Janet Jackson and Madonna. Still, orders of alimony paid to former husbands often come as something of a surprise, even to those involved.
Is it Harder for Men to Obtain Alimony?
State alimony law, NJ Rev Stat 2A:34-23, is written to be gender neutral. The law grants the Court authority to grant alimony or spousal maintenance as is reasonable in consideration of the pair’s assets, debts, duties, health, education, previous lifestyle, etc.
Yet even with women increasingly working in prestigious positions and husbands staying at home with kids, it is still less likely for former husbands to receive alimony from their wives. Our New Jersey alimony attorneys have seen cases where Judges have more heavily scrutinized men in their requests for support, perhaps a reflection of erroneous assumptions that men are or should be the primary earners. Some will seek some proof that the husband is trying to earn what he did before the marriage, or at least a living wage.
In general, there is a trend away from long-term alimony and toward less spousal support for shorter durations. Courts are looking at it more like a rehabilitative tool as opposed to a given paid out indefinitely. Judges may award men less support for a shorter time frame with the expectation that they’ll be more easily able to quickly and successfully return to the job market (though it may depend on the field they’re in).
Considerations for Men Seeking Alimony
Alimony in New Jersey is based on 14 statutory factors, which include the need and ability of the parties to pay, the duration of the marriage, age, physical, and emotional health of the parties, etc. Neither party has a greater entitlement to the standard of living established during the marriage.
But even if alimony proves tough for either spouse to receive, it’s often still worth making a case for. Men in particular need to be reminded that pursuing it isn’t cause for embarrassment. In a lot of situations, it provides the support necessary for the under-earning spouse to relaunch their career - particularly if a major reason they’re under-earning is because they were attending to child-rearing, caregiving, or household management duties.
Still, we’ve seen cases where men wanted to avoid any perceived emasculation that might come with an alimony payment, and request instead that certain assets be leveled in other ways or for a one-time payment. Our alimony attorneys advise great caution with this approach because buyouts like this can have substantial risks. You might receive less than what you would have over time. On the other hand, a one-time payment can allow you to collect the total upfront, while avoiding the risk of jeopardizing ongoing payments if you remarry or even decide to cohabitate with a new partner.
It should be noted that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 made it so that alimony is no longer tax deductible for the paying spouse. Instead, the recipient now receives both child support and alimony as tax-free income.
Whether you are seeking alimony or responding to a request by your ex for spousal support, it’s imperative to consult with an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible, or at least before finalizing any agreements.
Call Rozin|Golinder Law, LLC today at (732) 810-0034 for a free and confidential consultation.