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From Florida to Arkansas, alimony reform is on the agenda

Alimony reform seems under full steam in many states throughout the country, and the debate surrounding it is rife with complexities.

Florida is often cited as a state where there is aggressive agitation for reform. In a prior blog post (November 21, 2011), we chronicled the developments relating to Florida Senate Bill 748 and its parallel legislation in the House, HB 549.

Stripped to the essentials, those bills call for greater limits on alimony than those provided for under current law. Most centrally, they call for a termination of alimony upon a payer's retirement age; an alimony amount that is pegged tightly to marital duration; a payment cap based on monthly income; and the ability of a present payer to renegotiate alimony terms under the new law.

Alimony reform -- which began in earnest in several New England states in recent years -- has spread to states such as Arkansas, North and South Carolina, Virginia and other jurisdictions. Its proponents often say that current laws are anachronistic and more appropriate for a time when divorce was rare, women invariably stayed at home without paying jobs, and they faced certain hard times following a marriage breakdown.

That situation is far less common these days, they say, and laws need to be updated to reflect modern-day marriages and economic conditions. Labor Department statistics note, for example, that close to 10 percent more women work outside the home now than did two decades ago, with their inflation-adjusted income rising more than 30 percent over that period.

Opponents of change say that it is simply unnecessary, since judicial discretion is always at work in individual cases. Making hard and fast -- and limiting -- new laws, they say, might work to undermine and "encroach on the discretion of judges" to ensure that an equitable result is reached in a case with singular facts and circumstances.

Source: USA TODAY, "Should alimony laws be changed?" Yamiche Alcindor, Jan. 19, 2012

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