From divorce court to popular culture, alimonyis a dirty word. Unpopular and rarely ordered, the awards are frequentlyinconsistent and unpredictable. The institution itself is often viewed as anhistorical relic that harkens back to a gendered past in which women lacked theeconomic independence to free themselves from economic support by their spouses. In short, critics of alimony claim it has no place in contemporary visions ofmarriage as a partnership of equals. But as Cynthia Lee Starnes argues in TheMarriage Buyout, alimony is often the only practical tool for ensuring that divorce does not treattoday's primary caregivers as if they were suckers. Her solution is toradically reconceptualize alimony as a marriage buyout.Starnes's buyouts draw on a partnership model of marriage that reinforcescommunal norms of marriage, providing a gender-neutral alternative to alimonythat assumes equality in spousal contribution, responsibility, and right. Herquantification formulae support new default rules that make buyouts morecertain and predictable than their current alimony counterparts. Looking beyondalimony, Starnes outlines a new vision of marriages with children, describing aco-parenting partnership between committed couples, and the conceptual basisfor income sharing between divorced parents of minor children. Ultimately,under a partnership model, the focus of alimony is on gain rather than loss andequality rather than power: a spouse with disparately low earnings isn't asucker or a victim dependent on a fixed alimony payment, but rather an equalstakeholder in marriage who is entitled at divorce to share any gains themarriage produced.
The Troubled Trajectory of U.S. Alimony Law