Are Alimony Laws Outdated?

by JRO on November 15, 2013

  • Sumo

Alimony has been a long-standing staple of the American legal system. Alimony is court ordered payment that must be paid from one member of a couple to the other after a separation or divorce. For years, because of gender roles in our society, men almost exclusively were the ones who had to pay to the women when couples split. But our society is evolving, gender roles have changed, and women are more prominent in the workforce today than they were previously. With that in mind, people have begun questioning whether alimony laws should apply as they used to, or if they could do with some reform.

How it Works

Alimony is intended to help prevent unfair economic pitfalls that may result from a couple’s separation. This is not child support, and can be added in addition to child support that may be awarded to one side of the separated couple. Courts have very few guidelines set when it comes to awarding alimony; instead, they are allowed to award it on a case-by-case basis depending on how they see fit.

Why it Might be Outdated

In extreme cases, men missing alimony payments can face jail time for their actions. It is cases like this, when punishment exceeds the crime, that suggests alimony laws are outdated. More women are employed these days, and they are no longer the powerless stay-at-home-mom types from the past. Many women have college degrees and many households have both spouses provide, not just one. Things are on a much more even plane than they were years ago, and for this reason, these laws may not have a place in the current legal system. Some alimony payees have had extra difficulties since the recession hit, and have faced problems that need to be addressed. Financial situations change, and if the laws don’t, they will be unfair to many.

Current Changes

Some states, including New Jersey and Florida, have already begun to change their alimony laws, recognizing that these decrees might be somewhat outdated. Prior to the changes made by a New Jersey Senate committee, the laws of the state seemed quite unfair: if the responsible party had lost their job or had major financial hardships, they would have still been responsible for paying the exact same amount they had when they were employed, even if they couldn’t reasonably afford to pay them.

New Jersey is not the only state that had outdated laws on their books, and others may soon follow with changes. Also, for years there was quite a bit of gender discrimination within the alimony awarding system. But in the 1970s, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against permitting any gender bias in alimony payments.

According to the IRS, there are around $9 billion dollars in alimony payments made to former spouses every year. With the average income in the U.S. declining, this number is likely too high. States like New York and Florida have begun to make changes to these laws and update them for the current age. Others should soon follow and hopefully make these payments fairer than they are now.


Werner Fox, a freelance writer and former divorce attorney, writes on a number of complex legal areas including Property Law, Family Law, Business Disputes, Property Disputes, Inheritance Law and other issues as well.

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