Child support guidelines are reviewed by the legislature every few years, as required by the Federal government. By contrast, there is no Federal requirement that alimony laws be examined and updated to keep pace with current social and economic realities.
Under Connecticut’s current laws, which contain no guidelines whatsoever, alimony judgments differ wildly from county to county and judge to judge. Alimony recipients cohabiting with new lovers do not marry so that they can continue to receive payments, while payers in our fragile economy struggle to support two households, including adults they are not related to. And although the law allows payers to return for reductions when their circumstances change – as many have in the ongoing recession – judges often refuse to lower them, even when people have lost jobs or are well into their retirement years. The cost of returning to court alone can push people into bankruptcy.
Connecticut’s laws are still mired in the 1950s, except that higher earning wives are sometimes ordered to pay alimony to husbands. Significantly, from what we know, women are ordered to pay less alimony than men, and pay for shorter periods. In one recent case, a high-earning executive was ordered to pay her husband, who had no regular income, less than one percent (1%) of her income for two years, after an eleven-year marriage. This ruling was upheld on appeal. It is impossible to imagine such a paltry alimony award if the higher earner were the man.
Established when women had no economic power, alimony was created to protect homemakers abandoned by their husbands when divorce was uncommon, women were economically vulnerable, and the average lifespan was decades shorter than it is today. While the social and economic landscape no longer resembles that of our parents and grandparents, alimony laws and attitudes have not kept pace with these cataclysmic changes.