Guest Commentary

Opinion: Alimony In Conn: Past, Present And Future

The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Over 80 percent of pending dissolution of marriage cases involve at least one self-represented spouse. If experienced matrimonial lawyers and judges can disagree about alimony in a simple case, how can inexperienced lay persons be expected to reach an appropriate agreement?

In short, Connecticut's alimony status quo is a regime without a rationale in which awards are inconsistent and unpredictable.

Discarded Rationale

What should be the basis for alimony? The assumption that women are unable to support themselves through employment has been substantially eroded. Nonetheless, there are cases in which a spouse is unable to support himself or herself and requires alimony. The notion that alimony should be a reward to the good or a punishment for the bad has been almost universally discarded. Nonetheless, our alimony statute lets the court consider fault.

Twelve years ago, the American Law Institute posited that alimony should be used to allocate financial losses that arise at the dissolution of a marriage. "Principles of the Law of Family Dissolution: Analysis and Recommendations," p. 787 (Lexis Nexis, 2001). Since that time, no state has adopted the ALI's compensatory approach to alimony.

Others have suggested that alimony should be rehabilitative in nature and designed to assist the recipient in obtaining the education or training necessary to become self-sufficient. See Grinold v. Grinold, 32 Conn. Supp. 225 (1975)("The enlightened view of alimony is to characterize it as support for the party who may be at a disadvantage at the time of the divorce. That support is to continue no longer than the period of time necessary to permit socio-economic readjustment and rehabilitation." Upon review, the Connecticut Supreme Court stated that the trial court had concluded "that the plaintiff was 'rehabilitated' from any 'adverse socio-economic consequence' of her marriage. This novel and elusive concept is not to be found in either the statutory provision concerning modification or the one establishing standards for granting alimony orders." Grinold v. Grinold, 172 Conn. 192 (1976)).

Without citing the Supreme Court's decision in Grinold, Connecticut's Appellate Court has repeatedly approved of rehabilitative alimony. In the 1984 case of Markarian v. Markarian, for instamnce. the appellate court rules that "rehabilitative or time limited alimony is not new to Connecticut law. . . . Underlying the concept of time limited alimony is the sound policy that such awards may provide an incentive for the spouse receiving support to use diligence in procuring training or skills necessary to attain self-sufficiency."

That Connecticut's Appellate Court and Supreme Court disagree about an important rationale for and type of alimony does not bode well for those who expect our courts to craft a cogent construct for alimony. Moreover, when not dealing with rehabilitative alimony, Connecticut's appellate courts almost always uphold alimony awards, expressly choosing to leave alimony awards to the broad discretion of the trial court.

Predictability And Consistency

Others suggest that alimony should address situations where the spouses have disparate incomes, for whatever reason. In other words, alimony should be redistributive.

What's being said

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    The impetus against alimony reform goes far deeper than reducing the amount of billable time lawyers can charge for. The state and court system receive matching funds from the Federal Government, under the Child Support Enforcement Act. Under Title 42, Chapter 7, subchapter4, part IV, sections 651 through 659. The state/court system is reimbursed 66 cents on the dollar for money awarded in Child support, alimony and legal fees up to an amount of over $500 MILLION dollars. For 200 years, the court system functioned without this money. This kickback has been present for about 2 decades. This kickback has corrupted the practice of divorce law, by incentivizing too much alimony, child support and legal fees than are truly necessary and that the more economically successful spouse can realistically provide.

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