EVOLVING GENDER ROLES RESHAPE DIVORCE

Gender roles in society continue to shift; and that shifting makes itself evident in a variety of venues, including popular culture and in the law.

Take a look at child custody, for instance. In a not-so-distant past, it was automatically assumed by virtually everyone in Fort Worth that a mother in a divorce would get custody of the children rather than the father. Not so today.

The same is true in spousal maintenance (alimony) in divorce. It was once assumed by nearly everyone that the man in the divorce would pay alimony to his ex-wife. Again, not so today. In some cases, women are paying alimony to ex-husbands, as Time magazine recently noted in an article.

Why the shift? It’s due to economics: nearly 40 percent of working wives today earn more than their working husbands. While it’s certainly a positive economic outcome for those women, it can result in a less rosy outcome in a divorce where more and more family courts are telling women that they must pay spousal maintenance to their new ex.

Naturally, not all women ordered to pay alimony are thrilled with the idea — any more than men ordered to pay spousal maintenance have been overjoyed by the news. As Time noted, however, “What’s sauce for the gander is, alas, sauce for the goose.”

The writer argues that divorce, like many other institutions in American life, is undergoing the process of “de-gendering.” No longer can only men be cops, firefighters, soldiers, doctors and construction workers. And no longer can women be the only ones to receive alimony.

The initial idea behind alimony was solid: men and women divided the laborinvolved in marriage and parenthood. The man earned income and the woman raised the children and tended the house. The division of labor enabled both to be focused and successful.

But so many households today have two wage-earners, not one. And the division of labor has become more and more blurred for many couples, so the change in spousal maintenance should come as little surprise to anyone — male or female.