In addition to receiving flowers and cards this Mother's Day, an increasing number of moms will also be setting aside time to send out child support and alimony checks.
According to a recent survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), 56 percent of the nation's top divorce attorneys say that they have seen an increase in the number of mothers paying child support during the past three years, while 47 percent also note a rise in women being responsible for alimony throughout the same time period.
Of course, there are many reasons our members cite this increasing trend over the past several years. As women continue to achieve success in their careers, they will likely make more than their spouses in a number of instances. Even though statistics show that women unfortunately still earn less than male counterparts in many occupational fields, there are many wives today making more than their husbands in individual households. As a woman assumes the role of "breadwinner" in the family, she then becomes more financially exposed for child support and alimony payments if the marriage doesn't work out.
This trend has produced many interesting results, including impacting the amount of time that children spend with their fathers. In the past, an average American father would spend substantially less time devoted to childrearing, but in recent decades there has certainly been a shift. Not only are we noticing substantially more shared time with spouses and children, but also more fathers acting as the primary caretakers. If a marriage falls apart while the wife is the primary earner and husband is the primary caregiver, then the legal expectation could certainly be that the wife would be responsible for child support and possibly spousal support as well.
Overall, child support is a function of physically and financially sharing the responsibilities of raising a child. If the mother was primarily responsible for the financial support of the household and the child before the marriage ended, then it is logical to assume that some form of this arrangement will continue after a divorce.
Each state has its own criteria for when alimony is appropriate. Three common factors include the length of the marriage, one spouse's need for financial support and the other spouse's ability to pay. Since this basically becomes a mathematical calculation, gender stereotypes play little role in the final outcome. If the wife makes considerably more money than her husband, she is exposed to the very real possibility of paying him spousal support. In addition, if a husband can demonstrate that he had to give up his career, or accept a decreased salary, in order to care for the children while the wife was becoming the breadwinner, the chances of the wife paying alimony increase even more dramatically.
As a practicing attorney, one of the most fascinating aspects of my work is to watch and participate in the ways in which the court system eventually reflects the changes taking place in our society. This is certainly the case with issues regarding who pays child support and alimony. As more women continue to break societal and professional barriers, we can all expect this trend to only increase.