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Is Alimony Still Necessary? Yes, But...

Connecticut is part of a nationwide movement of men and women working to update the state's out-dated, anti-family alimony laws.

Now that President Obama has come out in support of marriage equality, I'm beginning to think that talking about alimony in public is one of the only taboos still left. Sure, it's fine to discuss movie stars or the divorces of the super rich that splash the gossip pages, but your own alimony issues in public? In print? With your legislator? Are you kidding?

But the times - and the laws - are a-changing, and Connecticut is now part of a nationwide movement of men and women working to bring out-dated alimony laws into the 21st century. With women's economic power, the widespread acceptance of people living together outside marriage, and our increased longevity, alimony laws built on the premise that divorced women have no options but lifetime support from ex-husbands have made many state legislatures tailor their laws to the times.

Each state has its own laws, and they are as different from each other as apples are from antelopes. New York State changed its alimony assumptions in 1980; Massachusetts came in 30 years later, in 2012, on March 1st, bringing guidelines and limitations where there used to be none.

It's important to stress: The new MA law does NOT eliminate alimony by any means; it limits it in generous ways based on the income of the parties and the length of the marriage, with extensions for special cases. 

Connecticut's laws are now being re-examined by lawyers and legislators, led by a grassroots organization, CT Alimony Reform, which supported a bill inspired by the new law in Massachusetts. Like the MA law, the CTAR-sponsored bill did NOT propose ending alimony; it tried to limit it based on income and length of the marriage, so that the lower-earning spouse, male or female, has many years to make a transition, as is the case in most other states.

The bill, introduced earlier this year, would have brought guidelines to alimony decisions, with exceptions for special cases. The purpose of guidelines: to cut down on uncertainty, unpredictable awards, conflict, and litigation for divorcing couples. Under current law, every alimony decision is up for grabs: each must be fashioned from scratch with every divorce. Lawyers consider it the most contentious area of divorce, and contention=conflict=legal fees. 

Unlike the child support guidelines, which lay out parents' obligations and expectations early on, alimony awards are a crapshoot. Lawyers can't tell clients what to expect. The judge in Room A will make a different decision from the judges in Room B and Room C. What's at stake? Family resources, good will, and the ability of divorcing couples to remain co-parents to their children. High conflict divorces are toxic for good parenting -- and quickly eat away marital assets. A divorce can cost the family four years of a college education.

The alimony reform bill died in the Judiciary Committee. It was supported by several women legislators, strapped alimony payers left having to ride a bike to work or borrow money to put gas in their cars, and some lawyers who believe that the time for guidelines has come, as it's come to many other states. Opposition to the bill came from powerful divorce lawyers, who argue that everything's fine in family courts, even when they tell their clients differently. 

Many lawyers favor some form of guidelines, and many believe that the current cohabitation laws need an update. The CTAR-supported bill has sparked much conversation and debate across the state. Lawyers will be discussing the matter of guidelines at their annual meeting in early June.

CTAR is holding a free public meeting on , to educate and inform citizens about current law, about proposals for change, and about how they can become involved in moving our laws and expections into the 21st century. 

Alimony laws in Massachusetts changed when citizens began to speak out, when the taboo was broken. As people began to speak up, more people joined the conversation - and pretty soon, word got out about what really happens in family court, under a system that offers no guidance for lawyers or judges. And legislators knew they had to make changes. It took input from citizens to make a difference.

I'll be blogging on this issue leading up to the meeting and afterwards. I'm eager to hear from you - publicly or privately - on where you stand, what your concerns are, and what you think alimony reform should look like. Please email me at info@ctalimonyreform.com. If you are interested in the issue but can't come to Westport, please contact us and we'll respond. We need your voices to be heard: info@ctalimonyreform.com. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Sarah Jancosek June 14, 2012 at 02:25 PM
NOTHING about marriage or raising a family is simple. That doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile or indeed the most important thing many of us will ever do, but please, could we enter the 21st century here? These gross generalizations about "the male" or "motherhood" or "ex-wives" may help vent spleen or make us nostalgic for the (supposed) good old days, but they do nothing to address the serious and persistent problems of lifetime alimony, the re-entry of former stay at home parents in to the workforce or the runaway train that is the current state of random, come-what-may alimony decisions in CT.
Sarah Jancosek June 14, 2012 at 02:31 PM
I didn't realize that so many kids lose out on life and become drug addicts because both parents work. I always thought kids lost out because they didn't have enough to eat, or were poor, or their parents couldn't find jobs. Even in these cases, many kids rise to the occasion. I have been reading the same blog, and with one or two exceptions I do not read any men saying that full time parenting is "worthless." I CHOSE to stay home with my son - it was choice I made as part of a partnership. And I am privileged to have been able to make that choice. No one put a gun to my head. Just because we divorced does not give me the right to expect a lifetime pension and sit on my behind (now that our son is grown) and collect checks.
Jane June 15, 2012 at 09:58 PM
Sarah, what I was saying is that if each person treats the other with respect and takes the time to show their love in ways that help each other on a day to day basis, there would be fewer divorces. As for the effect of both parents working, there are ages when it is important for one person to be home. Many articles have been written about the middle school ages where children are first alone for part of the day and decide what to do with their free time. I know it isn't always possible for single parents but we can't keep blaming the problems of children on society. Some children do well in the face of adversity, some survive and some are lost forever by drugs, promiscuity, and anger.
Jane June 15, 2012 at 10:14 PM
I really hope we can put some time into the divorce process, many people get divorced without marriage counseling and if the result of the counseling isn’t a reconciliation it should be the parents are able to part without acrimony. Being able to divorce in a short period of time leaves everyone in a state of shock. Alimony should not be a given, if both parties have equal educations and are able to work full time physically and mentally. In families where one person stayed home or took a lesser position or part time work, that contribution needs to be compensated. Child support needs to be paid by the parent who doesn’t have full custody of the children and in the case of joint custody, whether or not either parent pays is dependent upon an agreement of who pays what for the children. I do think the list of what parents pay for is not the unending list of a child’s dreams. It needs to be balanced and reasonable. I think one sport and one musical instrument is fine for activities that require payment. I think that clothing should be limited to needed clothing, not having the most clothes in the class or every new pair of sneakers that comes out. I hope guidelines put an end to most of the hallway deals between lawyers. Lawyers will say the parties agreed on everything, that is so far from the truth. Many lawyers just wait to see which party wears down first, because that puts them at a disadvantage and they will agree to items they didn't agree to a month earlier.
Patty October 05, 2012 at 06:29 AM
Just my two cents, every divorce case is different. I think the root cause of so much pain, fighting, discontent is selfishness! I was married 23 yrs. had 3 kids, took a back seat so my ex husband could fulfill his career aspirations. In the end, he found a better life with a very wealthy woman, less responsibilities, travels all the time, enjoys his life. I was left unemployed, 50 years old, chronic lyme disease, all the responsibilities of the kids (which I adore) and a house that was falling apart. Yes, he had agreed to alimony and child support. Four years later, I am working hard and earning a good salary. Dedicated myself to making sure the kids are thriving. But now he wants a reduction of alimony, do I think it's fair? No. Not because I want to punish him but because the lyme has progressed into the brain and I don't know how long I have before I become more disabled. Does he care that all I make goes to support the 3 kids and college? Nope. Again, it's all about selfishness and that applies to both men and women.

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