More States Consider Updating, Changing Alimony Laws

Alimony is getting a hard look in many states where the laws have not been reviewed in decades. Activists for reform of spousal maintenance argue that marriages are no longer unequal economic partnerships. Some advocates are arguing for alimony to be done away with, while others believe limits are the answer.

The financial disparity between wives and husbands was much greater when some alimony laws were last changed. A generation or two ago, divorce was less common for couples in Texas and elsewhere. Wives were more likely to not work and were financially vulnerable if a marriage ended.

Pointing to job figures for women, many reform proponents say permanent alimony is outdated and unnecessary. Since 1979, the U.S. Labor Department reported the number of working women increased from half to nearly 60 percent. Average annual salaries also improved for women.

One state recently decided that a marriage’s length and each spouse’s income should factor into a judge’s alimony decision. Whether an alimony recipient cohabits or remarries and whether a payer is at retirement age influences new alimony agreements.

In some states, alimony is open to court-modification.

Leaders of some alimony reform groups say judges hold too much sway over divorce settlements, while opponents of reform contend that judicial discretion is imperative for fairness.

The president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers believes lawmakers should not tell judges how to rule. He says judges already decide when and how long alimony is appropriate based on the individual circumstances of each divorce.

The greatest fear among opponents is that states will wipe out alimony altogether. One divorce adviser suggests that more women, especially those over 50, will be impoverished if support payers become free of alimony obligations at retirement age.

People worried about being financially drained by excessive alimony should consult with a family law attorney, who could help negotiate a more equitable settlement or get a modification of payments.

Source: USA Today, “Should alimony laws be changed?” Yamiche Alcindor, Jan. 19, 2012

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