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Some ex-wives have to pay 'manimony'

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By Anna Jane Grossman
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(LifeWire) -- When Susan Harris divorced her husband of five and a half years last December, she got the apartment, extra closet space and the covers all to herself.

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Her ex? He got $37,440.

That money is being doled out in 48 monthly alimony payments. Or, as it's called in some circles, "manimony."

Over the course of the couple's marriage, Harris, 31, who makes more than $100,000 working in ad sales in Alameda, California, brought in more than two-thirds of the household income, while her ex-husband (who declined to comment for this article) worked toward becoming a credentialed teacher.

The couple had no children or joint property other than a rental apartment. When things started getting rocky in the relationship around year two, Harris was loath to end things, partially because she was concerned that she'd be obligated to continue supporting him financially, even though he was employed.

Her concerns were well founded. Legally - under state laws - both women and men are entitled to alimony if there's a large discrepancy in spousal income.

However, that doesn't mean men seek alimony.

"Thirty-three percent of higher-earning spouses are women, but fewer than four percent of alimony payers are women," says Ned Holstein, president of Fathers & Families, a family-court reform organization in Boston, citing U.S. Census Bureau data.

Finances of marriage

For most of the history of marriage, money changed hands before the ceremony, often in the form of dowries. But as divorce started to become more common in the 1900s, so did post-separation monetary agreements.

"Traditionally, marriage was a financial arrangement. Joining hands in marriage meant joining bank accounts, and bank accounts were largely in the hands of men," says Roderick Phillips, a professor of history at Carleton University in Ottawa, and author of "Untying the Knot: A Short History of Divorce."

"The trend in the 20th century has been to allow women to recover what they had before the marriage and to compensate them for anything they sacrificed during the marriage," says Phillips.

The Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act of 1970 gave men as well as women the right to ask for alimony. Up until the 1980s, however, there were only a handful of cases in the U.S. in which a woman was ordered to give money to her spouse in a divorce case. However, "in recent years there's been a greater movement towards gender equality," says Phillips.

'I'm a man! I can take care of myself'

Some husbands have settled for increased custody instead of going to the mat for money, says Holstein.

"I hear a lot of men say, 'She earns way more than I do, but I wasn't going to ask for alimony because I get the kids 40 percent of the time and I don't want to rock the boat.' Then there are a lot of men who are just ashamed to ask for it."

Nancy Chemtob, a divorce attorney and a founding partner of Chemtob Moss Forman & Talbert, a New York City law firm that focuses on divorce, family and matrimonial law, agrees. "Men don't brag about it, and women aren't proud of it."

"I think men are chided for not making money and women are not. It's not even brought up if a woman in court says she is not working. Where if it is a man, it's brought up, says Chemtob. "The law is equal, but... the mentality isn't."

Mark Berlin, 45, an office manager at Office Depot in Chicago, was awarded $250 a month in alimony on top of $925 a month in child support when he divorced the mother of his two sons in 2005.

"I didn't really even want the alimony, but she made more than me and [the court] said that's what she had to pay," says Berlin. He puts the payments, which will continue through 2010, into college savings for his kids.

"I do think that there shouldn't be discrimination against one sex or the other, says Berlin. "Still, when I first realized she was going to be paying me, I felt very embarrassed. I felt like, 'I'm a man! I can take care of myself!'"

Changing times, changing attitudes

Not all women resent paying money to their exes -- and not all men feel uncomfortable being on the receiving end. As the number of alimony cases increases, attitudes are gradually beginning to change.

Jeffrey Leving, an Illinois divorce lawyer and author of the book "Fathers' Rights" attributes a rising trend in women paying spousal support in part to an increased number of fathers serving as primary caregivers.

"I also think that there are more men wanting to function as the sole parent and raise children than ever before," says Leving. "It's becoming more socially acceptable for men to be primary parents."

Chemtob says close to one-tenth of her clients are women who pay alimony to their exes. "When I first started 14 years ago, that number was zero," she says.

For the last two years Alexis Martin Neely, a family lawyer and author of the financial planning guide "Wear Clean Underwear," has paid her ex-husband between $1,300 and $2,000 a month in alimony -- in addition to child support. During their six-year marriage, he was a stay-at-home dad. Currently he is unemployed and has custody of the children half the time.

"I'm grateful to be able to support him being able to spend time with the kids," says Neely, who is 34 and lives with her two children in Hermosa Beach, California. "It's just money -- I can always make money. But I see people embroiled in conflict for years of their life, and that's something you can't ever get back."

LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. Anna Jane Grossman is a freelance writer and co-author of "It's Not Me, It's You: The Ultimate Breakup Book."

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