Monday, April 14, 2008

Alimony from Wives: It's No April Fool Joke

In a recent post, Dan Nunley, of the excellent Oklahoma Family Law Blog, discussed a recent trend that appears to be slowly building. He cited and reprinted an April 1, 2008, Wall Street Journal article about men receiving alimony from their ex-wives. It appears that in about one in three marriages, the wife earns more than the husband does. If those couples divorce, the wife has a possibility of being ordered to help support her husband after the divorce and that apparently does not sit well with some of the wives who are in that situation. Interestingly, the comments and complaints of some wives paying alimony sound just like comments and complaints some men make when they pay alimony.

As you may know, after a long history of no court-ordered alimony, Texas does permit alimony to be ordered. It has long been possible for the parties to agree upon alimony as part of an overall divorce settlement. There are a number of reasons why parties may reach an agreement for the payment of alimony and it is becoming a more prevalent tool to help reach an out-of-court settlement in marriages which have either a high wage earner or significant assets or both.

Where the parties cannot agree on alimony, a party (wife or husband) can ask a judge to order alimony, but the law is very restrictive in qualifying someone to receive alimony and usually permits it only for a short period of time. There are few situations in Texas where significant court-ordered (and not agreed to by one of the parties) alimony can be ordered, so the situations described in the Wall Street Journal article don't occur in Texas to any degree. Here, court-ordered alimony requires more than just a difference in income or fault in the break-up. Basically, if the party is able to support herself or himself or has assets that can provide the means to support the person, a court is generally not going to order alimony. Also, if alimony is court-imposed (not by agreement),
it will generally be no more than $2,500.00 per month and last for up to three years.

Nevertheless, it should not be surprising in the next few years to see more husbands seek alimony from their spouse for the same reasons wives have traditionally given when they have sought alimony. And we can probably expect the same responses from wives that we have gotten from husbands over the years as they protest the awards. In the end, the same reasons that support alimony from husband to wife can support alimony from wife to husband. A more significant trend will probably be the use of alimony as a tool to help settle substantial property or income divorces in a way that benefits both parties.

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