When couples go through divorce, the court will typically require one spouse to pay alimony to the other. The purpose of these payments is to ensure that the lower earning spouses can maintain the same standard of living that they enjoyed during the marriage.
Traditionally, many states have required ex-spouses to pay alimony benefits until one of the parties dies or, in some cases, remarries. Today, many states, including Texas, are doing away with automatic lifetime alimony benefits to keep up with changes in our modern culture's family and gender norms.
In the past, it was common for a man to go out into the workplace and earn a living while his wife stayed home and raised the children. While some women may have provided part-time services to earn extra income, they generally did not pursue higher education or full-time careers outside of the home.
After divorce, therefore, women were less capable of supporting themselves and needed the support that they were owed. Today, life in the United States is quite different. Women arguably have the same education and career opportunities as men, many of them working full-time during the marriage. The old alimony scheme just does not make much sense in the modern world.
Texas has come to a reasonable compromise on this spousal support issue. Under Texas law, a court will only award alimony in cases where the marriage lasted for at least 10 years or one of the spouses is unable to support themselves financially. Other states have adopted laws that are similar to the Texas version, such as providing alimony for a length of time equal to the length of the marriage or on a case-by-case basis according to the actual financial needs of the parties.
This issue comes up on our Texas blog because Massachusetts is currently in the process of changing its alimony standards. The Senate recently approved a change, and now it's up to their governor to make it official. Florida also changed its alimony laws recently. This is a country of constant evolution, and that is reflected in the family law system.
The Washington Times: "States no longer wedded to idea of alimony for life," Cheryl Wetzstein, Jul. 28, 2011