A recent article in the New York Times looks at the issue of ex-husbands receiving spousal support from their ex-wives and describes how, even in this day and age, it can still come as a shock to women who find themselves with a monthly spousal support bill after divorce. Let’s take a look at some of the interesting issues around gender and spousal support.
The article discusses preconceived notions around gender and what those ideas might mean with more women working in higher paid jobs, and there being more stay at home dads, than ever before. One US lawyer suggests “judges often scrutinize men more harshly during their bid for support, reflecting the bias that assumes men are, or should be, breadwinners”. Another lawyer said “in her experience, judges often awarded men less support for shorter durations while expecting them to return to the job market faster than women”.
Pride can also be an issue, with men regarding receiving spousal support as emasculating: “To sidestep the embarrassment of being dependent, equity and assets may be leveled in other ways, including one-time upfront payouts. But such buyouts carry risks.”
The situation is apparently similar in the UK.
Do Australian men seek spousal support?
Here in Australia, statistically it’s also the case that it’s fairly infrequent that Australian men apply for spousal support from their ex-wife. An Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) study on spousal support notes that:
“While spousal support is available under the terms of the legislation to both men and women, all the evidence suggests that men are the vast majority of payers and women the vast majority of payees. These data support this evidence.”
The main reason appears to be that the continuing highly gendered division of household labour, and the economic disadvantages women still suffer in the workforce despite women’s increased participation in the workforce, mean that women may be more likely to need support than men.
Why do people choose to pursue or not pursue spousal support?
The AIFS study noted some other interesting reasons why people make decisions about whether or not to pursue spousal support aside from sheer practical need. One interesting aspect is that there appears to be an association between the main perceived cause of the marriage split and receiving spousal support. Although the law doesn’t recognise factors such as affairs or apportion blame for a marriage ending, it appears that an element of perceived ‘justice’ operates in some cases of claims for spousal maintenance.
“This may affect the extent to which the claimant presses the claim for spousal support, the extent to which lawyers and other advisers suggest this course of action and/or support this person in their claim, the willingness of the other party to agree to pay, and the willingness of judges and other decision-makers to make such an order.”
Another factor that is relevant is who initiated the decision to split:
“Women who made a unilateral decision to separate were half as likely to believe that support should be paid than those whose husband had made the decision or who had made the decision jointly. While ‘matrimonial fault’ is not legally relevant to decisions about spousal support, for some women it may be more appropriate that spousal support be awarded as a form of compensation (or retribution) under conditions of perceived fault (for example, where the husband made the decision to leave).”
And a reason why women may not pursue spousal support claims is that both genders have been shown in studies to undervalue the non-financial contributions to a marriage. This means that “women who have spent a substantial proportion of the marriage out of paid work to care for children may believe that they do not deserve spousal support.”
And lastly, spousal violence can be a relevant factor towards women’s attitudes to applying for spousal support. The research showed that women who had experienced no violence in their marriage were twice as likely to think that spousal support should be paid than women who reported experiencing spousal violence:
“The experience of spousal violence thus seems to promote the notion of a ‘clean break’.” In other words, women who experienced spousal violence may be more inclined to want to completely sever ties and not continue any association with their abuser, including receiving spousal support from them. Another related factor here is that “It is also possible that the low self-esteem that often accompanies the experience of violence may foster a sense of ‘undeservedness’.”
Whether you are male or female, if you are going through a split and think that spousal support is a relevant issue, please contact us to discuss your matter and how best to approach the issue. Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Family Law.
You may also like to read our previous blog on the different kinds of spousal maintenance.