In divorce cases, maintenance /spousal support is always, as we pointed out in the previous blog How Much do I have to Pay Her?, a very important but difficult issue to discuss. It is uncomfortable as indicated when one of the spouses starts to squirm in their chair, because nobody wants to pay spousal maintenance. When the men have to pay it, what I hear is:
“I’ve worked for 20 years and I have a pension (or a business) and my wife didn’t earn the pension or work in the business. I got up and went to work every day; she only stayed home and took care of the kids and she shouldn’t get any part of my pension. She didn’t earn it.”
Hello??? Welcome to Matrimonial Reality 101. Everything earned, acquired or appreciated during the marriage is marital property. And for the record, when women have to pay men alimony, which is growing to be more common than not, they feel the same way.
As I meet with couples where the wife is the primary wage earner or breadwinner and the husband is the stay at home spouse, the wife has to pay the husband maintenance. Spousal maintenance is gender neutral so whether you are a man or a woman, if the factors are there, you will have to pay.
I remember meeting with one couple, where the wife was an executive with a large Wall Street firm and making a significant income. The husband had a lower paying job that he had lost. The couple decided that it was less expensive to have the dad stay at home and take care of the children, than to hire a full-time babysitter. As a consequence of that decision, now that divorce was imminent, Dad was entitled to spousal maintenance. During that discussion, I explained that sometimes, you can use the money for re-education or retraining. Other times, it is just a lump sum or payment over a period of time in monthly amounts (durational maintenance).
Women are no more happy about paying spousal support than men are. It’s always a difficult conversation, but it is a disservice to the couple to ignore it.
Currently, spousal maintenance decisions in court are all over the map. Judges decide different amounts based on the 19 factors, some of which we listed in the previous blog. Going to court can be a real “crap shoot” no matter who, ends up paying spousal maintenance. In mediation, we come to that decision in a reasonable way that addresses the need for spousal maintenance and the amount, but doesn’t negatively impact either spouse.
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