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The Changed Face of AlimonyUp until 1979, alimony was only awarded to (ex)wives, and not to husbands. Now, you may think that the times were different and women didn’t really have the rights or means to be able to fully support their husbands once divorced. This is partially correct, but this was also the time in which women’s rights were making large moves in the courts and out in society. So doesn’t this seem a little unfair and reversed? William Orr certainly thought so, and he set out to do something about it.

William and Lillian Orr divorced in Alabama in 1974. Under an Alabama alimony statute, husbands, not wives, were required to pay alimony upon divorce. This meant that William Orr was ordered to pay alimony to Lillian Orr. Lillian sued him for nonpayment in 1976, but William challenged the alimony statute, claiming that it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Upon having his claims thrown out of court on two separate occasions, the court agreed with Lillian and ordered William to pay the back alimony, plus Lillian’s legal fees. William promptly appealed the judgment to the Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama. His claims once again fell on deaf ears. So William decided to keep fighting.

An Uphill Battle
The case made its way all the way up to the Supreme Court. On March 5th, 1979, the Supreme Court ruled that a statute authorizing spousal support for wives, but not husbands, was unconstitutional. The significance of this judgment is that it rejected the premise that married women are necessarily dependent upon their husbands for financial support. Finding that what had been done in the past was an unconstitutional, equal protection violation, the ’79 ruling changed the face of marriage and divorce forever.

The case meant that women were inching closer and closer to equality and independence in the eyes of the law. Although Lillian Orr lost her battle, as well as the alimony checks, the majority of women that this case helped to influence is still ongoing today. In the eyes of the law, no longer were women dependent on their husbands to provide them with assets and a means to be able to live the lives they wanted. Women were recognized as being the ones who could provide for themselves, unpigeoned-holed by society, under the U.S Constitution itself.

To say that this case was liberating would be an understatement. William Orr’s fight, all the way to the Supreme Court, has changed the way in which divorce proceedings occur today, and will continue to occur in the future. If he had given up his fight to have everyone seen equally under the law, no matter the circumstance, imagine where we would be today.

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