Divorce: March 2008 Archives

March 12, 2008

Is Alimony on Its Way Out?

Recent lawsuits and proposed new legislation are challenging traditional ways of calculating and awarding alimony -- not just whether it's awarded, but also how much will be paid and for how long.

The National Law Journal recently reported on proposed laws that would put limits on how long alimony can be paid (in Massachusetts) and give judges specific rules for determining alimony amounts and duration, limiting the judges' discretion (in Nevada and New York). In Florida, a proposed ballot initiative would require a vote on a constitutional amendment to abolish lifetime alimony awards. The Massachusetts law would cap the duration of alimony at 12 years or half the length of the marriage, whichever is shorter.

One factor in the alimony wars is the increase in the number of women paying alimony to men, which one lawyer called "a huge area of litigation."

Regardless of who's paying, alimony has always been -- and will no doubt continue to be -- a contentious issue in divorce. But for as long as it's existed, alimony has been an important source of support for women transitioning back into the work force after years of taking care of a home, kids, and their husband's careers. To the extent that families still function that way, alimony still has its place -- especially in long-term marriages with a large disparity in earning power between the partners. At the same time, family structures have changed and apparently, alimony is following suit.