What About Men? Discussing Spousal Support in an "Inclusive" Fashion

by Robert Harvie May 02, 2013

Our laws relating to alimony or spousal support have evolved greatly in the past 20 to 30 years - primarily, or rather, almost solely in response to a deeper understanding and appreciation for the roles that women play in a marital relationship.  Women who are employed part-time, or who stay at home full-time to assist in raising children are now understood as making significant contributions to the marital partnership - albeit often not in a directly financial sense.  Beyond that contribution, we also have a much greater appreciation for the negative impact upon career paths often experienced by women as they subsume their career goals for the benefit of the marriage and the family - and this appreciation by society generally, and the courts in particular, has resulted in a heightened appreciation for the place that spousal support plays in the resolution of a family breakdown.

As it should.

However, it is perhaps time to stop to ask, "What about men?"

Often acting in a stereotypically stoic fashion, men enter into negotiation of family law issues unable or unwilling to express the impact of divorce and family breakdown upon them.

And this can lead to greater difficulty in resolving those issues, in particular, the issue of spousal support.

To be certain, more often than not, the career path of the male partner continues with only marginal impact related to marriage or birth of their children.  While men may have become more involved parents, maternity leave for men is rare, and extended full-time parenting by men is rarer still.

This often results in the courts and, yes, even collaborative professionals downplaying or even ignoring the underlying impact of a marital breakdown upon the male partner in a relationship.

We understand, now quite clearly, that it's not "just about the money" when discussing spousal support for women.  It's also about understanding and acknowledging the value and the commitment that they brought to the relationship.

So then, we must also take time to understand that, for men, it's also not "just about the money" when discussing their obligation to pay support.

Men are, typically, less likely to express their emotional connection to their earnings and their employment.

And, sadly, lawyers and judges are also less likely to understand and consider that emotional connection.

For if we acknowledge that to a great extent, a mother's value in the relationship was the rearing of the children and the tending of the home - we, implicitly, ascribe the primary value of the father to the financial contribution he makes to his family's well-being.

What does that mean, post-divorce?

Well, an effort to potentially equalize income, in whole or part, may suggest that his effort in achieving that income has little value.  Often we hear men talking of an impression by the court or their spouse that, "money grows on trees." This is not simply a desire, I would suggest, to conserve their income for themselves.  It is also a desire to have someone show respect and understanding for THEIR contribution to the marriage...  for the reality that their pay-cheque isn't just given to them, but takes effort and commitment just as significant as the effort and commitment that a full-time home-maker has to tending to the home and children. 

A man's career and income is connected, strongly, to their sense of self and their sense of value in their marriage and society.  And a simple parsing of that "value" without a discussion of the commitment to attain that value and the emotional and psychological connection of a man to his income and his employment will make negotiation of spousal support much more difficult.

As we often hear, "it's not just about the money".

And it's not.

So, to facilitate a fuller discussion of "values" and "interests", take some time to talk about and encourage recognition for the husband's connection with his income beyond the dollars and cents.  Encourage an understanding and respect that when he got out of bed every day and went to his job, that required a commitment to his employer and his family.  And that asking that income to be shared is more than just asking him to share his paycheque, it's asking him to continue to share "who he is".  An expression of understanding and appreciation for that fact will, I suggest, make it easier for him to continue that commitment to his family, post-divorce.



Comments (1) -

5/9/2013 12:21:07 PM #

A wonderful post, Robert.  Thank you.  I am going to share this with my Collaborative Community so that we, as a community, can be cognizant of this dynamic in our cases.  

The "tool" you offer, that of speaking directly and transparently of the connection the primary wage earner (whether male or female) has to their job, and how that connection is part of how they see themselves, is very powerful.

The process of "who we are" starts very early in life.  I have been talking to my 8th grade daughter about her boyfriend (her first), her first kiss (not yet), and what she is waiting for (for him to initiate as he is the "guy").  I suggested to her that her boyfriend (from personal experience 40 years ago) is scared, shy, and that if she waits for him to initiate the kiss that she may be a Junior or Senior in HS before that first kiss happens.  

She then pondered aloud whether she should be the one to initiate the kiss.  I was supportive of that thinking.  She left the car pondering her next step.

Society will not fall apart if some of the gender assumptions are set aside at an early age.

Plus, I think there will be a lot more kisses . . . .  . .

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