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Gender-neutral spousal support laws surprise female breadwinners

When there’s an income disparity among a married California couple, a divorce could lead to an alimony settlement. Although spousal support originally arose during a time when wives lacked the financial means to support themselves, modern laws look at spousal income instead of spousal gender. In 1979, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that family law would view alimony decisions in a gender-neutral light. The result has been that ex-wives now sometimes pay ex-husbands alimony. Given the historical context, women often do not expect this financial burden when ending a marriage.

Although ex-husbands still pay the bulk of spousal support, a poll conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers revealed that 45 percent of respondents reported more cases of women paying spousal support over the last three years. In the past, courts established spousal support as a lifelong obligation, but it no longer has to be permanent.

Many spousal support plans are limited to just a few years. During that time, an ex-spouse could build skills to enter the workforce and transition to self-sufficiency. Most attorneys acknowledge that no one, man or woman, likes the news that the law might require paying an ex-spouse. However, a prenuptial agreement might insulate a partner from undesired financial consequences after a divorce.

A person considering a divorce might benefit from consulting a family law attorney early in the process. The lawyer could evaluate the client’s finances and explain how legal guidelines may determine spousal or child support payments. As divorce negotiations proceed, a client could gain information about legal rights to certain assets. This information might help someone make choices that limit financial hardship when coming to terms with the ex-spouse.