Several states moving toward sweeping alimony reform

New Massachusetts laws lead the way

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By Ed Greenberger, THELAW.TV

If you've been through a divorce, there's a good chance you're dealing with alimony payments. Alimony, or spousal support, is an amount paid by one spouse to another after a divorce to allow the lower-income spouse to continue meeting living expenses. For decades, alimony laws have been fairly consistent across America, but things are starting to change.

Alimony reform has taken hold in several states. Massachusetts radically amended its alimony laws in September in order to meet the demands of a society in which economic struggles have become the norm and many women are now the breadwinners in their homes. The state's new alimony laws:

•Abolish lifetime spousal support in most cases. Alimony now generally ends when the payer reaches retirement age or the payee begins to live with a romantic partner.

•Establish a formula for alimony based on the length of the marriage. For example, after a 15-year marriage alimony would generally last no longer than 10.5 years.

"We've all heard the horror stories of men having to work several jobs to pay alimony to an ex-wife after a short-lived marriage," said attorney Martin Sweet of legal information website THELAW.TV. "The new laws in Massachusetts help to make the process more equitable. Nobody deserves to go bankrupt paying alimony."

Lawmakers in New Jersey and Florida are considering similar alimony reform.

However, some feel the Florida legislation goes too far. The bill would forbid a judge from considering adultery when deciding how much alimony to award. It would also put a cap on alimony, restricting payments to 20 percent of the payer's monthly net income.

Some feel the Florida legislation would hurt women who didn't work because their husbands didn't want them to. In fact, the author of the bill – who is recently divorced himself – was recently quoted as saying the payment cap he introduced might be a bad idea. 

"Figuring out how you're going to handle alimony in the event of a divorce can save both sides a lot of money and anguish," said Jacksonville family law attorney, Elliot Zisser of Zisser, Robison, Brown, Nowlis, Maciejewski & Cabrey, P.A. "You and your spouse know your particular situation better than anyone, so it makes more sense to work things out yourselves beforehand than to leave it up to the courts." 

Alimony laws differ from state to state, but no matter where you live, there is one thing you can do to gain more control over the process in the event of a divorce: draw up an alimony plan in a prenuptial agreement.