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The shifting winds of alimony

Will there be alimony in your divorce? On the one hand, spousal support (alimony) is not as common as it used to be. Women are more self-sufficient than in the past – in fact, many modern women are the breadwinners in the household.

On the other hand, the pay gap appears to be widening for men. This is especially true in male-dominated industries such as tech and finance. High earners are more likely to pay alimony, especially if the husband earns substantially more than the wife.

How often is spousal support awarded?

Not as often as you think. In the old days, it was more common for “housewives” to be awarded alimony. These days, most New Jersey divorces involve two-income couples. Spousal support is awarded only in about 10 percent of divorces. The most common scenarios:

  • A spouse who has limited job skills or work history
  • A spouse who cannot support their self because of age or disability
  • A spouse who put (her) career on hold to support the other through grad school or starting a business
  • A spouse who needs temporary support to go back to school or re-establish a career

Can men get alimony?

Yes, though it’s rare. Only 3 percent of alimony recipients are men. Based on census data, we can estimate that about 100,000 ex-wives across New Jersey currently receive some spousal support -- but only about 300 ex-husbands.

On paper, more men should qualify for alimony; women are the breadwinners in 40 percent of households. Yet many divorcing husbands do not pursue it because of the stigma. Men tend to either forego spousal support or negotiate a lump sum or other tradeoff in lieu of being financially supported by an ex.

Some alimony awards are trending up

While overall the institution of alimony has waned, there may be an uptick in the number and amount of alimony awards in high net worth marriages. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the pay gap is widening between men and women after years of progress. Not only do male graduates earn more “out of the gate” but the gap gets bigger, especially in the top-earning occupations which men tend to dominate.

On average, married men earn more than their single counterparts. Men can also expect a salary “bonus” when they become fathers, whereas women in the workforce (on average) experience a motherhood “penalty” to their earning capacity when they decide to have kids.

All of this adds up to income disparity, which is one of the statutory triggers for alimony. Ultimately, a judge decides whether alimony applies, unless the parties reach an agreement. But a good divorce attorney can gauge whether alimony would be realistically in play in your divorce.

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