What Is “Manimony” and How Does It Affect Women?

We need to talk about women and alimony

Updated 03/16/18

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Nothing can make a man turn into a rabid feminist faster than “manimony”—the nickname that’s popped up over the last 10 years for the rise in alimony payments made to men. Women paying out huge sums of money to exes used to be something we only saw among the rich and famous (here’s looking at you, Joan Collins and J. Lo)—but as women are starting to have more powerful careers and are beginning to outearn men, a woman being obligated to pay alimony to her former husband after a divorce has become more commonplace, not just for movie stars.

Now, many women who have taken off in their careers—often while still doing the lion’s share of emotional and domestic labor—are giving out large monthly payments to their exes. Call it alimony, manimony, support, or maintenance—it can add up to some serious money.

And a lot of women don’t like it—somehow it feels backwards. But even though it might give us a knee-jerk reaction, is it really wrong? “I feel so conflicted,” Andrea, a woman who was faced with making alimony payments during divorce mediation, told Elle. “On the one hand, I want to be like, ‘Sorry, it’s not my job anymore to support your lifestyle.’ On the other hand, if a man was speaking of his wife that way, we’d be like, ‘What an asshole.’”

And she’s not alone. A lot of women feel torn when asked to pay alimony. Does alimony paid out to men present a grey area where our sense of equality falters?

A Long History

Although alimony is an institution with a long history, it is only recently that it was thought of as something that could even be applied to men. The Code of Hammurabi, named after the ruler who reigned in the 18th century BC, read that a woman could be divorced by returning her dowry, and many cultures since have adopted variations of this idea. Women couldn’t work or own property—and often couldn’t ask for a divorce themselves—so if a man wanted to leave them, they had to be left with a way to support themselves.

Thus was born the idea of alimony.

But in 1979, the ideology of alimony shifted. While struggling to make alimony payments, one man challenged the idea—and the court took his side. “The old notion that generally it is the man’s primary responsibility to provide a home and its essentials can no longer justify a statute that discriminates on the basis of gender,” Justice Brennan ruled in Orr v. Orr, saying that alimony was to be based on financial need and must be gender-neutral.

And while that seems fair, it’s important to remember that these celebrations of equality were largely one-sided in the 1970s. Women earned less and had lower standards of living on their own—in fact, the 1985 book The Divorce Revolution reported that men had a 42 percent increase in standard of living the year after a divorce, where as a woman had a 73 percent drop.

A Change Is Coming

But we need to come to terms with ourselves with how we feel about it, because it's 2018 and the times are a changin'. As of 2010, only three percent of men received alimony or some form of spousal support but, with women being the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of households with children, that number could soon change.

And yet, many women are still struggling with the idea that they are responsible for supporting a man's lifestyle. "Women having to pay spousal support are the most difficult clients to represent because they are so damn angry," Lisa Helfend Meyer, a family law attorney in Los Angeles, tells Marie Claire. “They are offended by the notion that they would have to continue to pay for an able-bodied man." This isn't because these women aren't feminists or believe in equality — or care about fairness?

Absolutely not. The situation is far more nuanced.

Women tend not to resent the money aspect—it's everything else. As Marie Claire explains: “Helfend Meyer cites the resentment among her successful female clients who insist that, even as they tended to their demanding careers—fielding calls at all hours, working weekends—they still managed to, as she puts it, 'do everything' when it came to the kids and the household. Good luck finding a male exec who could rattle off the names of his kids' teachers, coaches, and pediatricians the way Mom can, even as Mom runs a multimillion-dollar business.”

And that’s the real problem. When alimony was something that was only given to women, it was because men were the financial hub of the relationship—it was understood that the women were responsible for everything in the domestic sphere, not having to participate in the workforce as well. So giving some financial remuneration felt like the equivalent of compensation women for the work they had been doing within the home, with childcare, and, later on, making up for a career they had sacrificed.

But when a woman is the financial powerhouse behind a relationship and takes care of the cleaning and the children and reminds you that it’s your mother’s birthday in two weeks and don’t go with pink roses this year because she hates them, it’s hard to imagine what she’s compensating her ex for. Rather than it feeling like a payoff that makes up for something, it feels like rewarding someone for doing too little.

Like Andrea told Elle at the notion the lawyers put forward of paying her husband alimony: "Who did they think her husband was, Zsa Zsa Gabor?" She goes on to detail how her husband was a great dad, but had been working part time so he could pursue other aspects of his (non-paying) career on the side, "meanwhile, they—she—paid for a part-time cleaning lady and full-time child care...So that he could pursue his hopes and dreams." So it's no wonder women have that knee-jerk reaction of "wait a minute..." when they are asked to dole out hard-earned cash.

That being said, it’s happening. And, as alimony stands now, it’s about financial need; the fair thing to do is treat men in this situation the same way women would want to be treated. But that doesn't mean it's an easy pill to swallow.

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