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The ever-changing definition of alimony

On Behalf of | May 11, 2016 | Divorce

Family law is a constantly evolving area of law. Child support guidelines are tweaked. Custody or parenting time and allocation of duties is changed. Alimony guidelines and definitions evolve with the times. Alimony is one of those legal subjects steeped in ancient law but remains relevant today. Judges continue to struggle to rectify the origins of alimony with the realities of modern life. This article will go over those changes and how they impact the interpretation of alimony today.

Alimony, or spousal support or maintenance, was intended to ensure that a wife would not starve if her husband left her. Back in those days, a divorce could only be obtained if the husband had committed a fault ? the most common one was infidelity. In those days, women rarely worked outside the home so a divorce could mean that the wife would be thrown out of her house and potentially starve ? even though she was the victim of the divorce. To remedy this situation, the courts created alimony to force the husband to continue paying to support his ex-wife.

This situation, while it may still occur, is hardly commonplace anymore. To reflect that change, alimony was changed to “support” or “maintenance” and it was now balanced by the ex-spouse’s earning potential. Judges and legislators assessed a person’s earning potential based solely on their ability to work. As a result, spouses who may have been out of the workforce for decades received substantially reduced support orders because they were expected to find a job.

The modern trend removes this harsh result and now uses guidelines to have judges take a holistic approach to the situation. Judges now balance the length of the marriage and rely on outside experts to estimate the spouse’s earning potential. Vocational experts are now a common expert witness in divorce proceedings. Alimony, while still important, is treated less like lifetime payments and more like rehabilitation. Spouses receive alimony, but they are expected to use that money to establish themselves. The payments may continue for years, but it is possible that they could end.

Divorce is not an easy choice for anyone. If you are considering it, then you may want to speak with a lawyer. As you can see, there are many issues that will need to be settled.


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