When a couple says ’til death do us part, they may assume a divorce would render this marriage vow null. But in a number of states, permanent alimony laws still bind divorcees together until the grave (or remarriage).
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According to US News and World Report, this financial life sentence after divorce persists in states including New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, Connecticut, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Florida (typically for marriages lasting at least 10 years).
But a number of states are working on reform, including Florida, where just last week lawmakers approved a bill that would limit the amount of financial support an ex-spouse receives based on the length of a marriage.
Alimony reform advocates are looking to make similar changes in New Jersey, and two of them sat down with The Daily Ticker to talk about it.
“For marriages lasting a relatively short period of time, alimony for the rest of your life is the rule rather than the exception,” Tom Leustek, president of New Jersey Alimony Reform, explains about his state's law. “You can take this to extreme cases of someone married 10 or 15 years and then having to pay or receiving alimony for the next 40 and 50 years.”
And while the Wall Street Journal reports that most alimony payers are still men, a growing number of women pay spousal support.
Sheila Taylor is one of them. She shares her personal story in the accompanying video, including an acrimonious 25-year marriage with a substance-abusing man who left her. A judge ordered her to give her ex-husband permanent alimony support.
Taylor, the president of New Jersey Women for Alimony Reform, describes permanent spousal support as a “personal entitlement program.” She explains that the rules governing spousal support are unfair compared with other types of benefits such as unemployment insurance. There are limits to how long someone can receive welfare and unemployment insurance depends on whether or not one can show he or she is making an honest effort to find work. Taylor says no such requirements are applied to alimony recipients.
Family law attorneys argue reform measures are more broadly punitive against women. In fact, studies show that a divorce in general is more punitive for women. A study from researchers in Australia determined that a woman’s household income drops significantly after a divorce, while a man’s continues to grow. This finding falls in-line with earlier research from the book "The Divorce Revolution." According to the book, a typical woman's standard of living falls 70% post-divorce. Meanwhile, her ex-husband sees a 42% rise in his standard of living. And the trend can be attributed to the cost of raising children. Mothers are still doing much more of the childrearing than fathers.
Leustek says clear guidelines for typical cases are the solution for making alimony fair for anyone involved. He says judges can then use discretion for unique outlier cases. In the case of New Jersey, Leustek advocates capping alimony to 30 or 35 percent of an individual payer's income.
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