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Could alimony reform go too far?

Alimony reform is a hot topic these days in many states that have advocate groups pushing for change in alimony laws. While some change may be needed, some feel that these alimony reforms may hurt older, divorced women the most, by making their financial future unstable.

Alimony law or spousal maintenance was put into place to mainly protect a woman that had been in a long-term marriage. In these instances, the woman may have been the homemaker and out of the workforce, or working, but at an income that was less than her spouse.

The purpose of alimony is to equalize the financial future of the spouse and to make sure that the spouse can maintain a post-divorce lifestyle that is somewhat comparable to the lifestyle she had while married.

A judge typically bases the alimony payment on the higher wage earners ability to pay and the need of the spouse receiving it. The length of the marriage could also play into this. Some couples feel that dividing assets 50-50 should be enough to avoid alimony, but the fact is that the spouse that stayed home to raise the children during the marriage could have a lack of earning power after the marriage, that can never be made up. Alimony helps equal this financial disparity.

The proposed alimony reforms could have serious consequences for the spouse receiving alimony. First, the proposed legislation would automatically terminate alimony payments when the payer reaches retirement age. That spouse doesn't need to stop working, just needs to reach that age.

Secondly, some of the alimony reforms do not allow already divorced people to be grandfathered into the system. This could allow for reductions in alimony that was determined years ago and harm the recipient. Some states are addressing this potential problem by stating that alimony modifications must be staggered over several years. For example, longer term marriages are not permitted to apply for alimony modifications until more than three-and-a-half years have passed after the law goes into effect.

While some reform may be needed, many states are already revising their laws and setting limits on the duration and amounts of alimony payments. This will only create more uncertainty for those receiving alimony. The best option is to speak with a family law attorney that can navigate through the proposed reforms in your state and help you make the best decisions for your financial future.

Source: Forbes, "Alimony Reforms Continue to Create More Uncertainty for Divorcing Women," Jeff Landers, Jan. 18, 2012

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