It’s a good question.
Clearly, in an earlier time, when one member of a married couple almost always had substantially more ability to be self-supporting, alimony made a lot more sense then than it does now.
Back when man owned and controlled most, if not all, of the marital property and not only had far greater opportunities for gainful employment than did women, especially married women, but were expected to support their wives financially, and given that housewives were often at a disadvantage in the workforce subsequent to divorce as a result of being out of the workforce due to bearing and caring for a married couple’s children, alimony made good moral, fiscal, and common sense.
Perhaps the most compelling reason governments support the concept of alimony in the event of a divorce is this: ordering one spouse to pay alimony to the other prevents the alimony recipient from becoming a public charge (otherwise stated, from becoming dependent upon government financial assistance, and thus saving the taxpayer money).
Clearly, an innocent spouse who has been wronged by his/her spouse in a manner that temporarily or even permanently impedes the innocent spouse’s ability to be self-reliant and/or to enjoy the lifestyle to which the innocent spouse became accustomed during the marriage may have, and usually does have, a sound argument for receiving alimony.
But one of the biggest problems with alimony today, however, one of the things it makes it so hard to justify in the modern age, is when a spouse chooses to leave a marriage and expects to receive alimony when the other spouse is innocent of any wrongdoing in the marriage.
By way of analogy (and bear in mind that this is an analogy, not a perfect equivalence), nobody would sympathize with an employee who quits his job yet still expects the employer to keep paying him a salary thereafter. That’s not how that relationship works. The employee gets paid in exchange for working for the employer. When you choose not to work for the employer, the employer is relieved of any obligation to pay you.
Why, then, is it fair for a wife to leave and divorce her husband, when the husband has done no wrong, yet still expect the husband to provide for the wife financially to any degree? It’s not. Plainly not.
Marriage is not purely contractual, but there is a contractual element to marriage, clearly. Inherent in that contractual element is a mutual obligation of support between spouses; they take care of each other. A spouse who honors his marital and spousal obligations should not be compelled by force of law to continue to honor those obligations if and when his spouse chooses not to reciprocate. Otherwise stated: you are free to end the marriage at any time, if you so choose, but ending the marriage means that everything inherent in the marriage ends; both your obligations and your entitlements. You no longer have any obligations to your spouse (because he’s not your spouse anymore), and your spouse no longer has any obligations to you (because he’s not your spouse anymore).
When spouses who leave faultless spouses claim that they nevertheless still have a right to be financially supported by their faultless ex-spouses on the basis of being unable to support themselves or to support the lifestyle to which they became accustomed during the marriage without financial support from their ex-spouses, such an argument completely disregards the natural consequence of the choice to divorce a faultless spouse. Your self-imposed inability to support yourself after quitting a well-paying job you may not have liked does not entitle you to demand a living from anyone else. Your inability to fly or levitate does not entitle you to live when you choose to jump off a 300 foot cliff.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277