1 May 2013 0 Comments

Traditional Gender Roles Are Going Strong When It Comes To Alimony

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Women who were the higher earners in their marriage don’t want to pay alimony and many men are uncomfortable receiving it. These are of course generalizations, but in most gender reversal divorces they tend to be true, at least to some extent.

Most divorcing couples report that they did not enter their marriages expecting that the wife would earn more than the husband. Higher earning wives often feel that they have done it all— managed the family, raised the children and brought home the bacon. When the marriage ends they are displeased to learn that they have to share their hard-earned assets with their husbands and possibly support him. It’s like adding insult to injury.

On the other hand, husbands feel they have contributed to the family by shouldering the household and children rearing responsibilities far more than their fathers and many of their peers, and that they should be recognized for their efforts in the same way that women who have stayed home expect and are entitled to be.

The impact of gender reversal on marriages is not clear. The New York Times reported in 2010, “Overall, the evidence shows that the shifts within marriages — men taking on more housework and women earning more outside the home — have had a positive effect, contributing to lower divorce rates and happier unions.” However, anecdotally, many marriages appear to suffer, including the recent split of Bethenny Frankel and Jason Hoppy, whose marriage reportedly faltered because of the financial success she realized from her reality shows, bestselling books and Skinnygirl products. Referring to the disparity in their income, Mr. Hoppy allegedly said in 2012, “My balls [were] cut off two years ago.”

Mr. Hoppy and other husbands like him may feel threatened by their wives’ success or guilty for not contributing more financially, and many wives may resent bearing the responsibility of being the higher-earner in the family. These emotions impact the discussion of how to divide marital assets and whether there will be alimony payments between the spouses. In my experience, many men do not want to feel dependent on their exes, and many women strongly believe their former husbands can and should be (and perhaps should have been) self-supporting. Inside and outside the courtroom, property division and, in particular, alimony are hotly contested topics in the negotiation of the terms of divorce. The challenge is often heightened when the wife earns more money.

Despite this added complexity and challenge, financial “gender reversal” cases often settle successfully. Is there a secret to this success? Perhaps… when couples work in the Collaborative Law or mediation process they are given the opportunity to explore not only how their lawyers interpret the law and recent cases on this difficult issue but also other reference points for decision making including the values and emotions that underlie their positions. This opportunity to get underneath positions and consider together how to find a resolution that honors both of them is often powerfully effective even when people start diametrically opposed.

Call it being reasonable, or working together in the spirit of cooperation, or resolving your differences amicably — the benefits that flow from taking a collaborative approach to the process of divorce are clear: Less emotional distress for families in crisis, a much lower financial burden, more knowledge and control of the outcome, and very little time wasted.

To learn more about the mediation process or to find out how we can help you get through your divorce with less pain and more gain — call Holstrom, Sissung, Marks & Anderson at any one of our office locations directly or contact us online.

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