Ana is the mother of a seven year old son who sought CWEALF’s assistance during her divorce. A stay at home mom during the marriage, Ana was mentally and verbally abused by her ex-husband, and not allowed to control any of the family’s finances. She also faced a language barrier during the proceedings, as she and her ex-husband met in Mexico. After being referred to CWEALF and our Community Advocate, Ana was able to go to court and obtain an alimony award that helped her pay her rent, and an increased child support award. For Ana, alimony means being able to get back on her feet and providing a better life for herself and her son.
On Wednesday, January 29, 2014 the Alimony Commission of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Law Review Commission held a public hearing on the topic of reforming the state’s system of awarding alimony. The Commission was created by Public Law 2013-213, and tasked with studying the fairness and adequacy of Connecticut’s current system of alimony orders. Public Law 2013-213 indicated that the Commission should collect empirical data pertaining to alimony in Connecticut, and present its proposed recommendations to the General Assembly by February 1, 2014.
Currently in Connecticut, alimony orders are calculated using a case-by-case method. Judges are required to consider and balance a number of factors including the age, health, occupation, earning capacity, and education of the parties involved in the divorce. In recent years, several attempts have been made to standardize this case-by-case methodology into a set process by imposing a guideline or formula for calculation. Reducing the determination of alimony orders into a simple formula or set of guidelines would be harmful for the financial and emotional security of many women, men, and children, and therefore CWEALF opposes this change. Any proposed formula would likely not take into account the lost earning potential of women who voluntarily leave the workforce to care for children, or the difficulties of maintaining primary custody of a child with inadequate child support payments.
Additionally, an alimony formula would negatively affect victims of domestic violence. Victims with few economic resources could be forced to stay with an abusive spouse in order to stretch their marriage to a sufficient length to obtain alimony payments under the formula. Further, because every marriage is unique and cannot simply be boiled down to a numerical calculation, we support keeping the current system for alimony awards as is, allowing for judicial discretion. In a public meeting on February 4, 2014, the Commission agreed it would not recommend guidelines for awarding alimony orders to the Law Review Commission.
The Commission also focused on issues of cohabitation involved in sustaining alimony orders. Proposals have been made to amend Connecticut’s alimony laws to include a presumption that alimony can be modified or terminated once a former spouse moves in with another person after the divorce. Such a presumption incorrectly assumes that an alimony recipient is bettering their financial circumstances by moving in with someone; further, it would prevent former spouses from moving in with friends or family to help pay the bills or provide care and support. CWEALF supports leaving all modification decisions in the hands of a judge, cohabitation or not.
There is no standardized form of divorce, so it doesn’t make sense that there be a standardized way of determining alimony orders. Each marriage is unique and complicated, and CWEALF supports a model of alimony awards that allows experienced judges to weigh critical factors against each other in making alimony determinations in each distinctive situation.
Photo by Rawle C. Jackman, “Mother & Child.” 03/29/2011. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic
Kaitlyn Fydenkevez is a legal intern at CWEALF, and a second year law student at the University of Connecticut School of Law. You can read more from her at kaitlynfydenkevez.com/blog/.