As a person whose parents split up when I was seven, I’m no stranger to divorce lingo. Child support. Full and part-time custody. Alimony. By third grade, I had all of the vocab down.
But lately, alimony as we know it has been called into question.
In its simplest terms, alimony is “a husband’s or wife’s court-ordered provision for a spouse after separation or divorce.”
The intent is to provide the spouse with low income, or no income, funds for living expenses outside of child support—in other words money to support themselves. The amount and duration of the payments depend on the laws of individual states, and are at the discretion of a judge.
But now, it turns out, many states are considering new legislation that would put an end to permanent spousal support.
The New Alimony?
Now, instead of alimony for life, several states are contemplating special formulas that would be used to determine a specified amount and length of alimony payments. Massachusetts reformed their law a year ago. Florida’s reform bill was recently vetoed by the governor. New Jersey is contemplating changes, and, just recently, legislation seeking changes was introduced in New York.
Proponents of the laws say it’s only fair that alimony be paid out over a specific amount of time, rather than for the duration of someone’s entire life. The other side argues these changes would hurt women who, in many circumstances, gave up their full-time careers or opportunities for further schooling to become homemakers or to care for children, and who may find it increasingly difficult to find good jobs in this economy.
If the arguments are not surprising, what is surprising is the increasing number of women who are calling for alimony changes. Sheila Taylor is one of them.
The Case for Changing the System
When Taylor, a nurse in Ocean Grove, N.J., managed to divorce her abusive, cheating, alcoholic husband of 25 years, she thought she was free and clear.
The courts, however, felt differently. Because Taylor’s $70,000 nurse’s salary was higher than what her husband had been making, she was ordered to pay him permanent alimony, to the tune of $1,250 every month … as long as he never remarried. It didn’t matter that Taylor’s husband had left her for another woman, or that the two of them were living together, or even that they were engaged. (And her ex-husband was vocal about the fact that he never planned to actually remarry, that way he could continue to collect his alimony payments.)