On June 6 I attended a lively meeting in Westport regarding the reform of CT alimony statutes. The meeting was hosted by the organization CT Alimony Reform (CTAR). It was interesting to hear their perspective on the various problems with the current system. I think everyone agreed that the family courts are overwhelmed and essentially broken.
My take from the meeting is that the organization is pushing hard to provide relief for the alimony payer. I strongly agree that there have been some horrible decisions made that create devastating hardships for the breadwinner of a divorce. However, there are also many occasions where the opposite is true.
Some of the proposals the group has presented include limiting alimony duration to half the length of the marriage and capping the amount to 35% of combined gross income. There are deviation criteria to account for extenuating circumstances such as health issues, tax considerations, unearned income sources and several others. One of the arguments against this bill is that there will be just as much litigation over the deviation criteria. That of course is speculation, so it may or may not be a valid point.
I agree with the group that something needs to be done about the CT alimony statutes, but I think they should slow down and engage the divorce professionals that see both sides on a regular basis. We all want a better system and more consistency with regard to alimony awards, but rushing in with a one-sided solution is probably not the answer. I look forward to a continuing dialogue with this group and hope that one day we will improve the divorce process in CT as a joint effort.
There is a movement taking place in many states, including CT, to overhaul the statutes that pertain to alimony. I have been observing the alimony reform conversation in CT for a few weeks now and will be attending a meeting about the subject on June 6th in Westport to learn more. So far, my perception is that alimony reform is geared toward providing relief to the individual paying the support (Typically men, but I have had a few cases where the wife was the bread winner and pays support to her ex-husband).
Under the present system, I find that after the alimony term ends, the payer generally experiences an immediate increase in his or her cash flow and as a result an increase in his or her standard of living . Unless the receiver of support has been able to find income to replace the alimony, he or she experiences the opposite situation with a sudden loss of income. If you could visualize a graph with one line representing the payer and one the receiver, the two lines would typically be even during the alimony period. At the point of termination of support, the line moves upward for the payer and downward for the receiver representing the increase and decrease in standard of living.
Many would argue that it is up to the alimony recipient to create his or her own income source during the alimony period, which should be seen as a time of transition from dependency to independence. I have some concerns with this view. For example, a mother may have young children and is therefore limited to working only when she can get child care. The additional expense of this care limits her income potential as well. Another common situation is the non-working spouse may have been out of the work force for many years and with such a tight economic environment he or she will find it challenging to locate a job. Even if a job is found, the chances of earning a comparable income to the bread winner is dismal at best.
Every situation is obviously different, so I believe there should be enough flexibility in the statutes to allow for creative alimony agreements. I’m sure there is plenty of room for improvement in the alimony statutes and there is no question the process of litigating family matters is archaic. However, I would rather see efforts made to educate the public about non-adversarial divorce processes such as mediation and collaborative divorce where most of the complaints of the alimony reformists don’t exist. In my opinion, litigation should be the last resort, not the first.
For information about non-adversarial divorce, a great resource is www.gooddivorcect.org.