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Lifetime alimony: Is it time for the laws to be updated?

The hard felt economic downturn has affected everyone in the country at some level. Particularly hard hit are a number of individuals in New Jersey who at one time or another were ordered to pay their former spouse lifetime alimony. This disparity has primarily impacted men who over 30-years-ago, when the law was first adopted, were the principal wage earner for the household. At that time, most women were responsible for managing the home and caring for the children.

But, today, the roles of men and women in the workplace have changed dramatically. Yet, the existing spousal support laws have yet to catch up with the modern day norm. It is this current imbalance that has precipitated New Jersey groups to garner the attention of some of the state's politicians.

The problem is this, the lifetime alimony laws do not take into account changes in circumstances, like a decrease of income, without a successful petition to the court. With many baby-boomers entering into retirement, those individuals responsible for paying lifetime alimony may not be bringing in the same amount of income as they did the time the spousal support was ordered. This shift in income is causing many payors to slip further into dire financial situations such as bankruptcy and foreclosure. Still, they are responsible for keeping up with their spousal support payments.

Nine states such as Arizona, California, Louisiana and Wisconsin are considered community property states -- under most circumstances everything is split equally. Massachusetts got rid of their lifetime alimony law last year and similar movements are currently being made by Florida's Legislature.

Several factors are supposed to be evaluated by judges ordering alimony, including:

  • Need and ability of both parties
  • Length of marriage
  • Age and health
  • Distribution of the couple's property
  • Earning capacity of each spouse
  • Standard of living each spouse is accustomed

The courts are not supposed to look at why the couple is divorcing or how they spend their money.

While there may be common denominators leading to couples' divorces, every case is unique and should be treated as such. Supporters of the change do realize that there are situations where alimony is necessary, but the amount of time it is ordered to be paid needs to be considered.

Source: Fox News, "New Jersey lawmaker looks to update alimony rules after advocacy group claims lifetime punishment," Leah Krakinowski, Jan. 11, 2012

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