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DOES CONNECTICUT NEED TO REFORM ITS ALIMONY LAWS?

According to a recent article in USA today,  Connecticut groups have joined  a growing movement  to revamp alimony statutes that some consider out-dated and punitive toward the payors of alimony.

Advocacy groups, such as New Jersey Alimony Reform, cite anecdotal  reports of onerous orders under which individuals have been forced to pay lifetime alimony despite job loss, failing health, or improvements in the financial circumstances of the recipient.

Reform proponents want, above all, to limit the duration and to cap the amounts of alimony  by creating formulas tied to the income of the parties and the length of the marriage.

Opponents  argue that strict formulas are likely to cause more injustice than they cure especially since judges already consider a range of equitable factors when fashioning alimony orders and need to be able to tailor awards to the needs and circumstances of each family.

In September of 2011, Massachusetts Governor, Deval Patrick, signed into law a new act that provides, among other things, specific term limits for alimony.  The Massachusetts law also limits the amount of alimony to  no more than 30% to 35% of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes at the time the order is issued.  Under the statute alimony can be set below these caps especially if the recipient does not establish sufficient need. The new Massachusetts statute also allows the court to terminate, suspend or modify alimony upon a finding that a recipient is cohabiting with another adult — action that has long been permitted under Connecticut law  in any case.

In contrast, rather than capping alimony awards,  the Connecticut alimony statute  mandates a case-by-case analysis of the issue based on a long list of factors including  the length of the marriage or civil union, the causes of the breakdown, the age, health, and occupation of the parties, as well as their respective skills and earning capacities.  This allows the court to project how the parties are likely to fare in the future, relative to one another, depending on the amount of alimony ordered.

In Connecticut, the group at the vanguard of the movement for alimony reform maintains a web site that is surprisingly non-specific about the ways in which members consider the existing Connecticut statutes to be defective. Instead, the group invites members to post so-called  “horror stories” about their own cases.

To the extent that reform groups suggest that non-modifiable lifetime alimony is the norm, at least in Connecticut, they are misleading potential recruits.

Because Connecticut law generally allows for modification of alimony when the financial circumstances of the parties have changed, an agreement or order to the contrary must specifically preclude modification.  While non-modifiable alimony orders are not altogether uncommon, they are most often the product of negotiations between the parties through which the recipient of alimony accepts a lower amount in exchange for a promise that the alimony will continue for a specified period of time.

According to the USA Today article, a bill concerning alimony reform is likely to be presented to the Connecticut General Assembly this year.

Because the issues are not simple, any effort at reform must be carefully considered.  New legislation, if it is to bring positive change, should be thoughtfully drafted in a way that allows courts to address the legitimate concerns of both parties.  Any reforms designed to protect the interests of one group without also safeguarding the rights of another will not satisfy that requirement, nor will changes that merely bring uniformity into the process without balancing the need for certainty with the overriding goal of treating all parties fairly.

As always, we welcome your comments.

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9 Comments on “DOES CONNECTICUT NEED TO REFORM ITS ALIMONY LAWS?”

  1. David Conway says:

    At Connecticut Alimony Reform we believe that reforms are needed because our overriding goal of treating all parties fairly. We believe that Alimony should be used to help divorcing parties gain their independence and not to be used as punishment, an award or lifetime entitlement, denying some to ability to ever retire.
    We have found from our members Horror Stories where the current application of alimony law is needlessly oppressive because it punishes one of the parties with lifetime payments under the threat of incarceration, while the other party is encouraged not to work toward supporting themselves.
    We also have found that the current application of the law discourages marriage in the state, Second wives can be penalized for marrying divorcees, because their earning can be considered in the calculation of alimony awards. And recipients refuse to marry in fear losing there alimony award.
    Above all we believe that the basis of good law is consistency, with equal rights for all.

    Regards,
    David Conway
    Connecticut Alimony Reform

  2. Jerry Reiss says:

    As you asked me to post my comments on another board I will do it sequentially here.

    #1 I don’t think that the major revision with it ending at retirement will pass here (FLA). There are too many well positioned lawyers on the executive committee fighting it. As long as the economy is this bad I do not believe that it will end at normal social security age because Fl does not have the same level of public assistance that Mass has. But I am a realist and what passed there will eventually pass here.

    I thought that the pendulum had swung too far favoring women when I began a campaign with my newsletters arguing against guidelines in 2004. The woman backing it saw it as an opportunity to get alimony treated just like child support with percentages that applied based on certain facots. The men viewed it as the beginning of the end of alimony. I’m afraid the men had the more correct foresight. Had it gone with the women the men who opposed alimony altogether on grounds that it is tantamount to involuntary servitude would have been correct, where I was otherise laughing at such individuals.

    But having been involved with numerous cases involving alimony I can safely say with all its problems of varying results with nearly identical fact patterns I favor the old system because it gave the court flexibility to deal with issues that it soon will not have.

    And much of the varying results had to do with the lawyers trying the cases. I did not blame judges when some lawyers defending were unprepared or when some lawyers who won were very well prepared. We get the legal system we deserve!

    But be that as it may we are headed in a conservative direction all over this country. Where are the women who should be fighting this? Women’s rights are on assault at every level all over the country in every political arena. This next presidential election will determine whether we turn back the clock on women’s rights 75 years. And alimony is ostensibly a woman’s issue because even when women work they largely deal with the family issues thereby limiting their opportunities for advancement.

    I am very upset to see time sharing work the way it does because it solved the problem of the deadbeat dad by legalizing no support. Every man now seeks equal time sharing so that he doens’t have to pay but a few bucks and now that it is only a few bucks the women no longer have the incentive chasing it when they do not pay. Any idiot could have determined that would be the result. I am a man who fought for and won custody of my son back in the 70s when it was virtually unheard of. So I am not in favor of women on this issue. But even then most men who fought did so for reasons other than the best interest of the child so I question the long term wisdom of all these changes.

    #2Automatic alimony after 17 years that would pay lifestyle need if there is the ability to pay never made sense. We had that here for years and we’re moving away from it with case law. Giving up a career was an important factor, but then there were a host of other factors that counted. They were enumerated in our 1980 Landmark Supreme Court decision of Canakaris that pretty much defined everything in family law, including the various standards of review that an appellate court would use in determining trial court error. These factors were later codified. The problem was the trial courts never followed them. If it was a 17 or 18 year marriage it was considered an alimony divorce. Then need and ability to pay were the only factors that considered its amount. This then produced widely different amounts from area to area and even within the same area based largely on the same facts. Then the word was that alimony guidelines were in our future and many opposed that because we had our experience with child support guidelines which created all kinds of problems.

    The old system would have worked better accompanied by a change in statutes like the one recently passed last summer, providing a long list of alimony alternatives, including durational, which always should have been an option but was used only for rehabilitation purposes. The problem is as we all know, removing discretion from the trial courts is about as insane as giving them unchecked unlimited discretion. There is a vast difference between a 30 year marriage and one that is 17 because 17 year marriages often end at age 40 where there is a substantial future lifetime to pay alimony and create a career. It never made sense strapping someone for life at age 40. 30 year marriages always end in the 50s where facing the workforce presents such obstacles to overcome that most do not. That is one of the chief reasons why the 11th Circuit, packed with very conservative appointees who are pro-business, do not like to award front pay damages when juries find sexual and age discrimination in work; and when they allow it they almost always limit the damages to two years front pay. But they carved out an exception when a worker is in his/her 50s because having ADEA laws on the books does little to prevent discrimination at the hiring end . They allow front pay to an age that one would have normally retired.

    The point I am making is simple. Alimony after 17 years makes perfect sense when someone gave up a career at the request of the other spouse, ends in their 50s, where one spouse is guilty of dissipating major assets, or when the needy spouse bacame disabled. One formula does not fit all and that’s the direction we are moving. A 17-year year marriage should have never strapped someone down for life paying lifestyle alimony unless several of the factors discussed were present. Now our courts in the Ft lauderdale/West Pal Beach area are turning a blind eye to these factors and award basic necessity alimony in 17-year marriages and will not consider more because of appellate rulings here shaping these issues.

    We have a bill considered right now that would end alimony under all circumstances at retirement. Maybe the legislature should add a euthanasia provision so that when this happens the needy spouse isn’t forced to live in the streets. The greatest generation of my father’s days has been replaced by the worst generation of my childrens’ where selfishness has replaced community responsibility. I find this particulary disgusting that this is occuring during massive budget cuts where the needy will have no other place to turn

  3. Jerry Reiss says:

    #3

    This is most disgusting assault on women we’ve ever seen. State legislatures want to intefere with a woman’s right to an abortion, right to use birth control, and after they are forced to have and raise children throw them in the garbage because the woman served her purpose. We don’t even give them child support anymore. Substantial time sharing has ruined that. Where are the women in all of this? The women of my generation would have cutoff their spouse’s watchamacallit just like Loraine Bobbit did if a man supported all that.

    #4

    [All of] My comments are directed to Fla and I am inferring that what’s there will soon be here. Opportunities are limited when people face the work force here, especially divorced women who never worked. The 11th Circuit deals with those limited opportunities here in employment law cases. They may or may not be there too. All I know about Mass is limited to the 70s when I lived there. It had great seafood and Italian restaurants which I could afford but once a month and when I lived there the winters were miserably cold. Also Boston had the highest cost of living in the nation when I lived there better than 30 years ago. I also know that Mass has a far better safety net with welfare than Florida does and there are better laws to protect consumers and renters there than there are here.

    That said I do oppose terminating alimony the way it appears to be happening everywhere. I made it clear that when it was paid to anyone based on need and ability tp pay in short-term marriages that was insane, But in 30 and 35 year marriages it should be based on lifestyle need and it should not terminate at 65. A person has a right to retire and it should be reduced to reflect the lower ability at retirement. I also always felt that a woman who receives alimony should be forced to work and not working as a lifestyle need never made sense.

    One of the things that distinguishes a 30 year marriage from a 15 year marriage is many of them end in the younger years when a new career is doable. But the other thing is how many years a person must pay future alimony. When someone is age 40 there are 25 future years before age 65 is reached. Unless accompanied by a disability such as MS it would make no sense strapping someone married only 15 years into a 25+ year commitment, let alone a lifetime one. But someone married 30 years gave up her whole life for that marriage. I do not think that alimony should terminate at age 65 under those circumstances and I do not apologize if you feel differently. From the anger in you I have to ask the onbvious question: Are you paying alimony to a former wife?

    A close friend of mine is a senior level partner is a major law firm and he is paying alimony to his ex-wife of a 17 year marriage for 10 years now. Making him pay anything but durational alimony was nuts. I told him that and I also told him that I would have felt entirely different had he been married 30 years. She has made his life a living hell. She never accepted the divorce and she made no attempt to find work despite the fact that she is college educated in demand. It is a generational thing because you can see the attitude change in much younger male judges. Regardless I do see it as selfishness. As far as my comments on the assault made against women I am afraud you reacted to something that I had intended for the regional audience here. I also belong to a Florida family law professionals and I sometimes confuse the two. I do not think that they are likely under assault in Mass. But they clearly are in the SE USA and why I decry where are the women I am directing those comments to the female audience in the SE USA, including Fla.

  4. john smith says:

    What is the philosophical basis for a rule that gives a lower court judge (and let’s not kid ourselves, these are not the best and the brightest that sit on the matrimonial bench in state courts) the power to seize a man’s earnings for the rest of his life and transfer them to someone to whom the man is no longer related. in some instances, a divorcing wife needs some period of time to get her life reorganized, although in contemporary america those women are an ever decreasing percentage of the population. but after a period of, say, three years, what is the philosophical basis for alimony? (we are not talking about child support). divorce is now the norm in this country. the number of marriages that last until the death of one spouse in old age is very small. a majority of children born to women under the age of 30 are now born to women who are not married. if alimony were happening to a favored group, it would be recognized for what it is — slavery. but it is happening to men, and largely to white men. so we are invisible. the time to end this disgrace is now. what lesson are we teaching our young daughters when they see their mothers refuse to take responsibility for themselves because they have lifetime alimony?

    • This is a common sentiment but query whether a woman who has dropped out of the job market for 5 to 10 years in order to raise children or support her spouse can really catch up in 3 years.

      • john smith says:

        respectfully, you are i think agreeing with me. the only excuse for alimony may be in the few cases like the one you describe (which i respectfully suggest are ever fewer), but the length of the alimony must be linked to the amount of time the woman needs to get her life reorganized. life time alimony, or even lengthy alimony, is not defensible.

        by the way, in the hypothetical case you describe, should the court award the man some compensation for the fact that he had to give up his one and only opportunity to stay home and truly bond with his young children because he had to keep working while his wife got to stay home and have what many people would describe as the greatest experience life offers? divorce decrees can not be the tool that rights all perceived wrongs in life.

  5. Jerry Reiss says:

    Lois I am engaged in battle with the same group that is trying to start something in NJ. The proponents of reform are out and out liars with stories that are completely fabricated. All they do is invent people that do not exist and good decent people should refuse to invite them in for coffee because they will pillage your home and kill everybody in there. Of course I don’t literally mean it but I said it to demonstrate these are the meaniest people on this planet. Their goal is to set family law back 75 years where a woman had better behave and do exactly what the husband wants or he will divorce them leaving them destitude. They use fairness as their battle cry and market a level playing field as their goal but fairness to them is about ending all manners of support, including payment of attorneys fees in the nature of support so the one that controls the money exists the divorce as the clear victor. This is the true agenda.

    Here is my Op. Ed appearing yesterday in the Tampa Bay Tribune

    http://tbo.com/news/opinion/alimony-measure-would-kill-30-years-of-progress-20130906/

    and here is my OP. Ed. appearing about ten days ago in the Tallahassee Democrat

    http://www.tallahassee.com/article/20130826/OPINION05/308260005/Jerry-Reiss-Alimony-overhaul-about-preserving-wealth

    I had one appear in my local papers and one in the Palm Beac Post but neither of those provide free access.

  6. Jerry Reiss says:

    Lois I am pleased to report there probably will be no bill in Florida This year. Alan Frisher shot himself in the foot by trying to force the governor to either reverse his position or distance himself from the group. As an ego maniac he thought he could pressure the governor publicly but it backfired. This is an election year and Scott is not too popular here in Florida, He needs a repeat of 2010 and no controversies. I guess my Op. Eds helped him come to that conclusion.

  7. David Conway says:

    Thought that this offered an interesting expose of the family court process – divorcecorp.com


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