Alimony, or spousal maintenance as it is referred to in Missouri, traditionally meant wage-earning men were expected to support an ex-wife after divorce, as it was common for women to be homemakers and mothers during the marriage. This legal practice reflected the fact that few women had independent means of earning income, due to gender bias in education and hiring across most employment sectors; women who did work often were paid significantly less than men in the same jobs.
Times have changed, of course, and so has the law. Spousal maintenance became gender-neutral in 1979. That’s when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down existing state law requiring men to pay alimony, but not the other way around. Six of the Justices found it violated the equal‐protection clause of the Constitution and discriminated based on gender.
Simultaneously, women in the workplace became common; by 2000, 60% of women were participating in the workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, accounting for about 47% of the total labor force in the U.S. The gender wage-gap also narrowed, although at 79 cents for every dollar a man earns, it remains significant.
Since 1979, then, spousal maintenance rulings would be based on financial and personal factors. Men could seek maintenance if they met the criteria of neediness, and if their spouse had the financial means of supporting them.
Yet in the past four decades, men have rarely sought maintenance, even when eligible. Where divorce and spousal support are concerned, long-held societal assumptions about gender roles have been slower to evolve.
As recently as 2014, Forbes magazine found that only 3% of men made alimony claims against higher-earning wives. The likely reasons? Male pride in not wishing to be dependent on a woman; stubbornly held views of gender roles, including among some judges ruling on alimony matters; and strenuous court objections by women during divorce proceedings.
By 2018, however, the trend towards gender neutrality had gathered speed. A MarketWatch article published that year cited a 45% increase in men seeking alimony, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. This reflects the rise of higher-earning women as the breadwinners in the household, and the growing acceptance of men staying home to raise children and earn less than their wives. Eventually, same-sex marriages ending in divorce could also impact the trend.
To better understand spousal maintenance, including the criteria a divorcing spouse must meet to be granted financial support, be sure to read our recent blog.
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