Spousal Support & Divorce Law: Displaced Homemakers Rights
By Beverly Bird
The most vulnerable of divorcing spouses are those who have devoted their lives to their home and children while their partners earn income. These displaced homemakers are rarely able to earn enough to support themselves when they lose their partner’s financial support through divorce. Even the most anti-alimony state legislatures recognize this. Displaced homemakers have a right to continued support when their marriages end, although the laws are more generous in some states than in others.
In most states, a displaced homemaker most prove to a divorce court that she has devoted her career years to caring for her children and her home. This means her marriage must have lasted at least 10 years. Texas, which has a reputation for being stingy with spousal support awards, requires that a displaced homemaker be incapable of supporting herself because she was caring for her family when she could have been honing job skills or pursuing an education. Florida, which is more alimony-friendly, only requires that a homemaker's earning potential is insufficient to allow her to live as well as she did when she was married.
How long spousal support will last, even for displaced homemakers, depends on state law. Judges in California and Florida often will not set a cut-off date in their rulings. Tennessee tends to award such spouses support for only a limited period of time, until they can rehabilitate themselves and find gainful employment. Texas limits alimony to three years in all circumstances, unless a spouse is mentally or physically disabled. Unlimited or permanent spousal support usually ends if the homemaker remarries. Florida has passed legislation that puts cohabitation in the same category as remarriage, while California will end support when, and if, the homemaker is able to find employment.
Few states have ironclad spousal support laws. Generally, legislation leaves the amount of support, and even whether or not a particular case warrants it, to the discretion of a judge. Texas is an exception. Courts in Texas will not award spousal support in excess of 20 percent of the earning spouse’s income or $2,500 a month, whichever is less.
Nature of Support
In addition to monthly support payments for necessary living expenses, displaced homemakers in some states have a few more rights. Massachusetts law allows a judge to order the earning partner to provide medical insurance coverage for his ex-spouse, over and above alimony. Tennessee often adds the cost of job training and education onto spousal support awards.
The laws in some states reach beyond divorce legislation to protect displaced homemakers' rights. Maryland’s state code also provides for programs that offer health care options, job training, education and job placement for such spouses.
- DivorceSupport.com: Factors Considered for Spousal Support
- The People’s Law Library of Maryland: Alimony and Its Purpose
- Jeffrey Jones: Divorce
- The Family Law Group: Alimony in Florida
- Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts: Who Gets What? Dividing Property During Divorce
- The Commonwealth of Massachusetts: General Laws
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.