Men seek spousal support too

All Woman

WHEN a marriage has gone sour and a divorce is granted, usually a woman is awarded alimony — a monetary form of spousal support.

However, following the amendment of the Maintenance Act in 2005, which allows men to also claim maintenance, a few women locally have had to either settle payments out of court or disburse a monthly figure to their ex-husbands following the dissolution of their union.

Consider the situation of BL, a 42-year-old woman who told All Woman that she thought all was well when her husband of eight years walked out of her life in 2010 and stayed out for four years.

She said that during the divorce proceedings he filed for spousal support, claiming he could not maintain the same standard of living he was used to while in the marriage.

“I was honestly taken aback. I knew the law, but I also thought he wouldn't do that, because while [we were] together he never took a dime from me or acted like he needed my finances, even though I had the stronger earning power,” she explained.

“At the end of the back and forth in court, I had to settle to pay him $300,000,” she added.

In another case, CM explained that her spouse was a modest and humble man; as a result, when he requested half of a number of her assets, she was taken by surprise.

“We were separated for about two years, and when the divorce was being processed, that never came up. It was only after he could not pay his legal fees that the request was made. I knew someone planted the seed. He walked away with half of four cars and proceeds from the sale of properties. A lot of Jamaican women aren't aware that men are now willing to put their shame tree aside and ask for what they didn't sweat hard for. Many times we think they are so in love with us and are committed to the relationship, when in truth they are committed to our possessions and maybe are just counting down the time. The lawyers told me I was lucky he just asked for the matrimonial property, as he could have asked for more as well as spousal maintenance too.

“I'm now in another relationship, and whether or not I remarry, a prenup is going to be done, because common-law unions can also go through this. A prenup is no longer for the rich and famous of Hollywood. Just protect your own interests,” she cautioned.

Maintenance orders may be made in circumstances in which the court is satisfied that one spouse cannot practicably meet all or any part of his or her needs, and the amount ordered will be a sum that will cover the needs of that spouse. When considering applications for maintenance by spouses, the court is required to consider many factors, including the length of the marriage or cohabitation, and the spouse's accustomed standard of living during the marriage or cohabitation. Additionally, the income of each spouse is looked at as well as the ability to care for themselves and dependents.

Maintenance orders may require periodic or lump-sum payments to be made; and in the case of periodic payments, the court may order the payments to continue for a period it considers just.

According to attorney-at-law Christopher Townsend, partner at Townsend, Whyte & Porter, the law is no longer gender-specific, and while the practice of men filing for spousal support is not common, it is slowly growing.

“The law now makes provision for both persons to get financial support. In the past, women could ask for spousal support when the relationship broke down. The law was amended so now a woman may be earning more, but the man gives of himself to the woman through emotional support, staying at home and cooking, cleaning, taking care of the house, so the roles are reversed. So now he can apply for maintenance support after the marriage has broken down,” he explained.

Townsend, however, pointed out that the practice is not as prevalent locally because our men still hold on to masculine values, but he said he is anticipating more applications like these before the courts, as this same culture is changing fast.

“There are certainly situations where women overseas are supporting men with money in terms of common-law relationships, and in turn the men provide sexual favours. A common-law union that exists for over five years can find a man filing for maintenance support. The culture is changing, and we will see more applications like these before the court,” Townsend observed.

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