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Traditionally, in California as elsewhere, it was the man who earned the higher income in most families. This fact often led to payments for child support and spousal maintenance to the wife in divorce situations as she was the one traditionally responsible for taking care of the children and maintaining the home. These payments could last for years in some cases, depending on factors such as the work history of the wife and the length of the marriage.

However, as more women have entered the workforce, spousal maintenance and child support has begun to change. Today, more women than ever are graduating from law school. Additionally, the number of female doctors has increased such that the number of men and women receiving medical degrees is equal, compared to the one-in-three ratio that was the norm in 1980.

The percentage of marriages ending in divorce has remained fairly constant over the past few decades. Reports indicate that the number is somewhere between 46 and 53 percent of marriages. Increasingly, many of those divorces also end with the wife paying support.

In California and across the nation, when a couple wants to divorce, they work to negotiate a settlement agreement. This agreement seeks to address all aspects of the marital dissolution. One of the issues to be determined is the payment of spousal maintenance, if any. Using the incomes of the individual spouses, a court or the divorcing parties can determine which spouse has need for support and under what conditions. When the wife is the breadwinner, it is now more common that she is the one to pay.

Source: Reuters, "Divorce courts mirror society as more women pay alimony," Patricia Reaney, May 10, 2012

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