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Alimony is Gender Neutral!

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Dear Carolyn:

I am thinking about separating from my wife of 10 years. She is a doctor and makes a lot more money than me. I am a school teacher and make extra money coaching, but she still makes a lot more than me.  Neither of us are having an affair, but I am pretty miserable. We are both thirty-three.  She works all the time and I take care of our two children.  I also worked for two years while she finished her medical degree.  I hate to ask, could I get alimony as a man?  Our lifestyle has been great, and I would like to maintain that lifestyle as best I can. Thanks Carolyn.

Carolyn Answers….

Very interesting question, but the answer is quite simple. Men can get alimony on equal footing with women, at least theoretically. This issue was resolved by the United States Supreme Court in 1979 in the noteworthy case of William Orr v. Lillian Orr.  In Orr, the Supreme Court held that an Alabama statute that made alimony only available to women was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which provides for equal protection. An interesting twist to the Orr situation was that Mr. Orr did not want alimony from Ms. Orr; rather Mr. Orr was upset that women never had to pay alimony under the Alabama statute. Mr. Orr’s argument that the statute discriminated against men won.

Some men do get alimony in North Carolina, but there are vastly more reported cases of women receiving alimony. Times are changing. I personally believe toward more men receiving alimony. The thirties age group has a fairly typical scenario in divorce of both spouses working, or at least no one has been out of the workforce for 20 years.  Neither of you are out of the work force.  Contrast this with divorces of persons in their late forties or fifties where one spouse did drop out of the public labor force to raise children—those dependent spouses who haven’t worked publicly for 20 years generally receive alimony if the supporting spouse has the ability to pay.

The North Carolina statute for alimony was revised in 1995 and set up 16 discretionary factors the court should consider (NCGS 50-16.3A) for determining the amount and duration of alimony. In your situation, the significant factors that should come into play would be (1) relative earnings since she makes significantly more than you; (2) duration of the marriage of 10 years, probably gets you at most 5 years of rehabilitative alimony; (3) contributions as homemaker since you care for the children, although even with fifty-fifty custody you will likely receive child support.

While no lawyer has a crystal ball on what a particular judge might do, based upon the facts in your letter, the facts suggest that you might receive alimony for 4 or 5 years. You would receive child support if you have at least 123 overnights with the children, and it sounds like you may have a great custody claim for primary custody. The big thing you need to think about is how the separation happens. You do not want to simply move out of the home you are living in because this is the current home of the children. The person moving out of the home is a big issue for you because of the children and also because of the likely big mortgage you have, which you strategically want as an alimony expense.  Good luck!