Alimony, also called “spousal maintenance,” is the legal obligation a person has to provide financial support to his or her spouse. This can be claimed either before or after a divorce. Alimony used to be considered a legal right of the spouse that was wronger in the divorce. New no-fault divorce laws have made alimony a conditional legal right that is based on various statutory factors and case laws. But alimony can be a tricky thing, mostly because economically speaking, divorces spouses are not equal. Typically the two spouses have different earnings and earnings potentials. Because of this fact, it falls to family courts to determine and rectify economic inequality that ultimately comes when two people decide to divorce.
No Set Formula
Unlike child support, there are no general standards or formulas for a court to determine the amount and terms of alimony. Because of that, cases that have similar facts and bases have very different outcomes. Alimony also tends to prolong divorces, and nearly 80% of divorces come with a request for alimony modification. Since alimony is so widespread, and since there is so much variance in the rulings, there is an underlying belief that alimony needs to be fixed, and that uniform standards and formulas should be created.
The Problem with a Formula
While a formulaic approach to alimony might sound like a good idea, it’s important to remember just how there is not a “one size fits all” answer for marriages that differ by type, socio-economic reasons, as well as just the facts of a marriage. A simple calculation might be too easy to supplement when full merit of a nonworking spouse’s worth needs to be taken into account. An example of this is the idea that if alimony duration is determined by length of marriage, a woman who falls victim to domestic abuse will face impossible decisions like “should I stay in this marriage until I meet a certain cut-off date for support?”
Rather than looking for a one-size fits all, it might be best to encourage equal economic allocations and financial control during the marriage, or during the combining of a couple’s finances. Postnuptials and prenuptial agreements should be discussed more thoroughly, as should estate plans that provide for trustees and third-party wealth administrators. Essentially, some financial planning should be done during a divorce, so that the burden of deciding on a person’s finances after a divorce no longer completely falls to a judge or a court.
Source: Time.com, Alimony Is Broken — But Let’s Not Fix It, September 1, 2014
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