Upon divorce or legal separation in a Connecticut marriage, alimony — also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance — may be ordered. Alimony is the payment of support money, usually monthly, by one former spouse, the payor, to the other, the payee.
The Duty Of Spousal Support
Connecticut law considers alimony as the continuing legal duty of support between ex-spouses after divorce or separation. While Connecticut views alimony in the nature of a contractual responsibility, it is not automatically ordered at the end of every marriage, but depends on the parties’ unique circumstances.
Many divorcing spouses can negotiate alimony as part of an overall marital settlement agreement. Such an agreement is traditionally negotiated by the respective divorce attorneys on behalf of their clients.
Increasingly, however, marital settlement agreements are reached through more nontraditional methods like mediation that involves a trained, neutral third party who assists the parties in negotiation methods, or collaboration in which the spouses and their family lawyers sit down around a table in a spirit of cooperation to craft the terms of the agreement.
It can be preferable to negotiate alimony if possible, because it may be cheaper and less stressful than litigation. Even though negotiation involves compromise, if a couple is unable to reach its own agreement on alimony, instead the issue will be decided by a family court judge in state court as part of the divorce or separation proceeding.
Connecticut judges have a lot of discretion as compared with those in some other states in which more strict formulas or criteria are applied to a couple’s situation to determine alimony. In Connecticut, the judge is required by statute in crafting an alimony arrangement to consider:
- Each spouse’s presented evidence
- Reasons for ending the marriage (spousal fault or adultery a factor, but not an automatic reason for or against alimony)
- Spousal ages
- Spousal health
- Marital station or lifestyle
- Spousal occupations
- Respective incomes
- Earning capacities
- Vocational skills
- Respective assets
- Respective needs
- Distribution of property in the divorce or separation
- Desirability and feasibility of employment of an ex-spouse with physical custody of minor children
If the judge decides to award so-called permanent alimony that would only end with the death of either spouse or remarriage by the payee spouse, the judge must specify in detail why the payee spouse deserves such a substantial award. Some other states have dramatically restricted permanent alimony and while it is still available in Connecticut, the judge must explain his or her decision to grant it as part of the written court order.
Change May Be In The Air
In 2013, state law required that the Connecticut Law Revision Commission look at the fairness and adequacy of the state’s alimony system and make recommended changes by Feb. 1, 2014. The commission made some recommendations, including that judges should also consider the factors of “net income,” “gross income” and “tax consequences” of the alimony award. The commission did not recommend that Connecticut adopt strict alimony guidelines.
The time period allotted the commission to make its study was short, so it will be interesting to see if the state legislature continues to consider possible changes to alimony laws going forward.
In the meantime, if you anticipate that alimony will be a legal issue for you in a divorce or separation (or annulment), either as the payor or recipient, speak with an experienced Connecticut spousal maintenance attorney for sound advice and representation.