Lawsuit Challenges Connecticut Alimony Laws
Four plaintiffs have filed a complaint challenging the constitutionality of Connecticut's alimony laws on the grounds that they affect a "fundamental liberty interest in ending a marriage and in remarrying."
The plaintiffs, who filed their complaint anonymously and who were ordered to pay alimony as a result of their respective divorces in Middlesex, Hartford, Fairfield and Middletown counties, argue there are no standards to guide judges when granting alimony. The lawsuit claims alimony is an anachronism dating from when women's legal identities merged into their husbands' identities upon marriage.
Within that framework, no statue guides judges on the point of granting spousal support, according to the complaint. "In no other area of law is the judiciary cast adrift and empowered to force the transfer of a private citizen's assets with no stated goal against which to measure the appropriateness of the award," the plaintiffs' papers said.
In contract cases, courts are only allowed to award enough money to return plaintiffs to the positions they would have been if their contracts had not been breached, the plaintiffs said. In personal injury cases, courts are only allowed to award plaintiffs enough to compensate them for their pain and suffering as well as their lost earning power, the plaintiffs also said.
The plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that Connecticut's alimony laws violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as well as a permanent injunction enjoining the alimony laws.
This is not the first time a challenge to how alimony is awarded has been raised in the state, although it appears to be the first time a constitutional argument has been made.
Edward Nusbaum, a Westport divorce lawyer who opposes efforts to change the alimony laws to add income-based guidelines and thus remove judicial discretion, said the constitutional argument is new to him. "It's not something I've seen in alimony reform," he said.
A contested proposal to use income-based formulas when determining alimony was raised by lawmakers last year, but did not advance in the legislature. A task force was created by the Judiciary Committee to study such a guidelines approach, along with aspects of "fairness and adequacy of state statutes relating to the award of alimony." The results of that study will be turned into the legislature in February.
Gov. Dannel Malloy was named as the sole defendant in the lawsuit filed Nov. 7.
Jaclyn Falkowski, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Attorney General, said in an email that the office will review the complaint and respond at the "appropriate time in court."