Alimony Reform: The Campaign To Replace Old-Fashioned Support Policy


The notion that divorce creates a lifetime obligation of financial support from one former spouse to another may finally be eroding.

Alimony reform has already taken effect in Massachusetts. Both houses of the Florida legislature passed a similar alimony reform bill, however, it was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott with four hours remaining before it would have become law by default.

Alimony reform efforts in New Jersey, Colorado, Connecticut, and Oregon are currently gaining legislative momentum.

For decades, courts have been saddling spouses with higher incomes (or assumed superior earning potential) with alimony obligations that keep their lower or non-earning former spouses at the standards of living they enjoyed during the marriage. In the vast majority of these cases, men are the alimony-paying parties.

Although economic and cultural standards have changed drastically since the passage of many states’ alimony laws, there has not been a concurrent change in the presumption that one spouse owes the other the perpetual duty of lifestyle support simply by virtue of the fact that the parties were once husband and wife.

Now that presumption is starting to face challenges.

Massachusetts Alimony Reform

Among the many changes the Massachusetts law ushers in are limits on the duration of most alimony awards.

For example, a marriage that lasted between 5 and 10 years will, in most cases, create an alimony obligation that lasts only up to 60% of the number of months of the marriage. Marriages between 15 and 20 years create alimony obligations of no more than 80% of the number of months of the marriage. And marriages lasting more than 20 years will create alimony obligations that terminate when the obligor spouse reaches full retirement age as defined by the Social Security Act.

Another feature of the Massachusetts law is a provision that reduces, suspends, or outright terminates alimony upon proof that the recipient spouse has been cohabiting with another person for no less than three consecutive months. Most current alimony schemes continue alimony obligations until a recipient spouse remarries.

The new Massachusetts law also permits spouses burdened with alimony obligations that were set prior to the new law’s enactment to seek a modification to terms consistent with the laws currently on the books.

Florida Alimony Reform

Although the Florida bill was not signed into law this year, there is still significant clamor for alimony reform in the Sunshine State.

“Alimony reform in Florida is essential because it is time to recognize the true meaning behind its intent – to assist a less financially able spouse as the parties transition from being married to single.”

“Alimony reform in Florida is essential because it is time to recognize the true meaning behind its intent – to assist a less financially able spouse as the parties transition from being married to single,” said Lauren Dabule, a Cordell & Cordell Tampa divorce attorney. “When awarded, alimony should be used as temporary assistance – not a method in which women can sit back and refuse to work and/or educate themselves while taking no responsibility for their futures.”

“Alimony reform focusing on temporary support would assist women in the here and now for necessities such as food and shelter, which they may not have an immediate ability to obtain on their own,” Dabule added. “This temporary support would be a significant improvement over the current option of permanent alimony, which oftentimes results in a husband supporting the posh standard of living for his former wife, a standard she has no responsibility to support. In this scenario, the former husband ends up unable to move on and benefit from his hard work/earnings, as he is merely trying to keep up with paying for his former wife to live the life she feels entitled to.”

Welcome to the 21st Century

While Massachusetts is the only state to achieve large-scale alimony reform and the handful of legislatures considering similar reforms are but a small percentage of states dealing with antiquated concepts of spousal support, there is at least a glimmer of hope that more states will consider revising laws no longer suited to the economic and cultural realities of the 21st Century.

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