Why Do We Have Alimony?

Posted On May 10th, 2016 by Michael Dunham

[Ed: Originally published on Facebook.]

We’re looking at alimony this week. Historically, alimony was awarded as a recognition that the traditional role of the husband was to be the “breadwinner” outside the home, while the traditional role of the wife was to care for the home and/or the children. Women in general did not have the employment opportunities they have today, and divorced women had an even harder time. Alimony allowed the courts to achieve some measure of fairness by making the husband provide support for his former wife.

In many ways, this view of alimony can seem out-of-place in our modern world. Women have employment opportunities they did not have before, and sometimes the wife actually out-earns the husband. But remember yesterday we talked about alimony being an allowance out of one spouse’s future estate. In many cases, where one spouse has significantly higher earning potential, that has usually been made possible at least in part because the other spouse contributed so much to the marriage. In this way, it can be helpful to see alimony as recoupment of an “investment” in the earning capacity of the other spouse.