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Home >> Across Cultures  >> Tracing the roots of alimony
 

Tracing the roots of alimony

Like everything else, marriage too, is susceptible to expiration. The process of divorce is daunting, and not just mentally, it affects the bank too. Soon-to-be divorced couples find themselves fighting over assets, money, children, pets and whatever else they co-own.

Alimony is a highly debated topic. The legal obligation to pay allowance to a former spouse post separation ought to create tremors. It is the single most hated and loved concept–hated by those who pay it, loved by those who receive it.

Have you ever wondered how and when alimony came into existence? Steering clear of the debate that rages on about alimony, here we trace the roots of this age-old tradition.

A clay tablet that dates back to 1754 BC supposedly has the answers. The Babylonian law of ancient Mesopotamia called the Code of Hammurabi–the same code that spawned the phrase ‘an eye for an eye’–is believed to be the earliest inscription to mention the concept of alimony. The story goes that the sixth ruler of the first Babylonian dynasty, King Hammurabi, received from their 282 laws to govern Babylonia. Specific guidelines that outlined punishments for every action were inscribed on clay tablets.

In regard to women’s rights the Code had this to say: 

“If a man wishes to separate from a woman who has borne him children or from his wife who has borne him children: then he shall give that wife her dowry, and a part of the usufruct of field, garden and property, so that she can rear her children. When she has brought up her children, a portion of all that is given to the children, equal as that of one son, shall be given to her. She may then marry the man of her heart.”

“If a man wishes to separate from his wife who has borne him no children, he shall give her the amount of her purchase money and the dowry which she brought from her father’s house, and let her go.”

Socially and religiously, marriage was a sacred commitment that needed something stronger than reasons like, ‘I’m unhappy’, ‘I’ve fallen in love with someone else’ or ‘We were drunk when we got married’, to file for a divorce. 


“If a man’s wife, who lives in his house, wishes to leave it, plunges into debt, tries to ruin her house, neglects her husband, and is judicially convicted: If her husband offers her release, she may go on her way, and he gives her nothing as a gift of release. If her husband does not wish to release her, and if he takes another wife, she shall remain as servant in her husband’s house.”

“If a woman quarrels with her husband, and says, “You are not congenial to me,” the reasons for her prejudice must be presented. If she is guiltless, and there is no fault on her part, but he leaves and neglects her, then no guilt attaches to this woman, she shall take her dowry and go back to her father’s house.”

It took centuries for divorces to become a normality as it wasn’t as acceptable back then as it is today. Socially and religiously, marriage was a sacred commitment that needed something stronger than reasons like, ‘I’m unhappy’, ‘I’ve fallen in love with someone else’ or ‘We were drunk when we got married’, to file for a divorce. In earlier times, alimony was explicitly based on the reasons given. In fact, if the reasons weren’t fault-based, divorce wasn’t granted. Needless to say, alongside divorce, the laws of alimony mutated too.

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