In theory, alimony as a legal concept exists independent of gender. It does not matter whether the payee or payer is a man or a woman – alimony is awarded when one party has a need for it and the other has the ability to pay it.
In practice, of course, it does not work quite like that. It is still significantly less common for men to be awarded alimony – indeed, many men who may be eligible for alimony do not even request it. This is despite the fact that women’s likelihood of working and their income levels are both rising, and they are now more likely than ever to be the primary or even sole breadwinner member of a couple.
A recent study from Pew Research Center on “breadwinner moms” shows that a record 40 percent of households with minor children include mothers who are either the primary or sole source of family income. The figure was just 11 percent in 1960. The 40 percent figure must be taken with a grain of salt: two-thirds of that group is made up of single mothers with a median income of just $23,000. The other third, though, is made up of 5.1 million married mothers with a median family income of nearly $80,000. These are the true breadwinner wives and mothers who might very well have to pay alimony if they divorced and their spouses requested it.
But the truth is, many men who might be eligible to receive alimony do not request it. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010, there were 380,000 women in the U.S. receiving alimony, but just 12,000 men. A man might believe that asking for alimony is a sign of weakness. If he comes from a marriage in which his spouse made more money, he might have lingering issues with not being the primary breadwinner that could make him hesitant to continue in a role of being supported by his spouse.
It is still true that alimony is more often awarded to women than to men because women are more likely to have foregone education and work experience for the sake of a spouse or a family. But that is a generalization. An individual man is more likely than ever to be in a marriage in which the opposite is true. Anyone seeking a divorce who believes they need or deserve to be awarded alimony should seek the counsel of an experienced divorce attorney as soon as possible.