Clients often begin representation assuming that, when a couple is divorced, the husband will automatically pay the wife child support, and in some cases, alimony, which is in New Mexico is often called spousal support. The logic behind this belief is quite simple.
Historically, the husband was typically the "bread winner" or "provider" of the family and was routinely relied upon to provide the financial support for his family. This responsibility generally continued through divorce proceedings in the form of child support and alimony payments to the wife. However, as more and more women have entered the workforce during the past few decades, more and more wives have to pay child support and, at times, alimony after a divorce.
In New Mexico, child support is statutorily mandated and is based on the gross incomes of the parties, among other things. Therefore, the more income a woman makes, the more likely it becomes that she may have to pay child support to her former husband. In contrast, alimony is not mandatory in New Mexico, but rather is based on a set of factors which are set forth in the , including but not limited to, the length of the marriage and the age and ability of the parties. These Alimony Guidelines created in the Second Judicial District (Albuquerque) largely set forth the factors and calculation of alimony in New Mexico.
In some cases, alimony is awarded to pay for the cost of education or training for a spouse that has been out of the workforce during the marriage so that that spouse can become gainfully employed down the road. As an increasing number of husbands have stayed home to take care of children while wives worked, it has become more likely that a woman may have to pay alimony to help their former husband get back into the workforce. The award of alimony in these cases will also reflect the disparity of income between the parties.
A recent nationwide survey of divorce attorneys conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that the traditional notion of husbands always paying child support and alimony no longer holds true. More women are paying alimony and child support than ever before. In fact, fifty-six percent (56%) of the divorce attorneys that responded to the survey reported that they have seen an increase in the number of women paying child support, and forty-seven percent (47%) of the attorneys polled reported an increase in the number of women paying alimony to their former husbands.
And, the primary reason for this shift can be explained by the changing role of women in the workforce. Since 1980, the number of women obtaining professional degrees in law and medicine and holding high paying corporate positions has skyrocketed. These women are now earning more than their spouses and becoming the family breadwinners. During this same period of time, the number of marriages ending in divorce has remained relatively constant with about half of all marriages ending in divorce. Thus, the legal guidelines that determine who pays child support and alimony, and how much is paid, now often compel these highly educated and highly paid women to make the payments.
Obviously a divorcing spouse usually wants to minimize their financial obligations to their former spouse after a break-up. However, it is important to understand the changing dynamics of these issues and the way that custody and alimony payments may be decided in each individual case. An experienced divorce attorney can help explain these dynamics and the potential child support and alimony obligations inherent in a modern divorce.