Is Permanent Alimony Outdated?

Divorce, Relationships

Lifetime AlimonyAlimony has been around for a long time, and has generally been a dirty word for men and a saving grace for women. The game is changing, however, with more women in the workforce than ever.

Alimony Law Changes

Florida Governor Rick Scott recently vetoed a bill that would have made Florida the fifth state to abolish permanent alimony. The bill would also have made it more difficult to get alimony in short-term marriages (less than 11 years). If alimony was granted in this case, it would not be more than 25 percent of the ex-spouse’s gross income. For failed marriages between 11 and 20 years, alimony (if granted) would not amount to more than 35 percent of the ex-spouse’s gross income. In long-term marriages (longer than 20 years) up to 38 percent of an ex-spouse’s gross income could be granted.

Those against the bill argued that it ultimately discriminated against spouses who sacrificed their careers or education to be home with their children, only to be discarded by the working spouse. Since the homemaking spouses will likely have a harder time rejoining the workforce with success, the measure doesn’t seem fair. Gov. Scott also argues that the bill is unfair because it applies retroactively, so unanticipated results could apply to those who divorced while relying on the current divorce system.

The Drawbacks of Permanent Alimony

With women making up nearly half the workforce and earning more than ever, lifetime alimony may seem a bit outdated. However, it’s true that more women are also paying alimony as well. Alimony may also cause undue hardship when the alimony-paying spouse’s salary plummets but he or she still has to pay up.

And it’s not just the exes that are complaining. Second spouses point out that their salaries (especially if the divorced spouse has experienced a salary decrease) are being used to support their spouses’s ex.

At the end of the day, there are still plenty of spouses who have left a career path to invest time in their family, while supporting their spouse to the peak of their career success and earning potential. The homemaking spouse, now potentially unemployable, may be left in a lurch upon divorce. However, since many families are now made up of two working parents, determining whether alimony should be permanent—or simply “rehabilitative” and temporary—is becoming increasingly difficult.

Leaving It Up to the Judge

Most alimony reforms attempt to take away the discretion of the judge and impose severe limitations on what can be awarded in any given case. While a judge can usually deviate from the parameters of the new laws, it is required to give a detailed written explanation for the deviation; thus, the temptation to simply stick to the new law’s guidelines may take over.

A man or woman who has been out of the work force during a long-term marriage—or whose income is much less than their partner’s—generally receives alimony to maintain a post-divorce lifestyle somewhat comparable to the lifestyle enjoyed during marriage. Interestingly, the language in the vetoed Florida bill removed the reference to the lifestyle enjoyed during the marriage.