In Texas and many states across the country, alimony laws are long-established and attempt to ensure the support of one spouse after a divorce. But many states are considering and embracing reforms to those laws. Advocates of the changes argue that alimony laws as they currently exist are outdated and do not reflect the nature of modern day marriage and divorce.
Reformers argue that old alimony laws were written for a society where divorce was uncommon and where most women depended exclusively on their husbands for financial support. Without alimony, the reasoning went, newly divorced women would have no means of providing for themselves.
But in many marriages today, both partners work. Alimony reformers argue that it is unfair for one partner to shoulder the often heavy burden of alimony when the other is perfectly capable of self-sufficiency. Reformers support limits on the duration and the amount of alimony a spouse can be ordered to pay. In particular, they rail against the awarding of lifetime alimony to a divorced spouse. They cite evidence that some people must continue working long after retirement age in order to have the money to satisfy alimony payments.
In a particularly poignant case that highlights the reformers' cause, a 72-year-old retired doctor, so far along in the progression of Parkinson's disease that he is bedbound and mute, must still pay $25,500 each year to his ex-wife. The couple separated in 1992 and divorced in 1997. The ex-wife's income as a college professor, however, is presumably more than adequate to allow her to lead a comfortable life without the alimony payments.
The man and his current wife have gone to court five times to modify the payments, but to no avail. The man can still make the alimony payments, but his current wife notes that if the alimony were changed or eliminated, she could afford to hire more help to care for her ailing husband.
On the other hand, however, supporters of the alimony status quo suggest that changes to alimony laws will restrict the discretion of judges to fashion appropriate remedies in unique cases. They fear that the bright-line rules championed by alimony reformers will leave some divorced spouses, particularly women, impoverished.
Source: USA Today, "Should alimony laws be changed?" Yamiche Alcindor, Jan. 18, 2012.