A recent article about the changing attitudes toward permanent alimony highlighted one state legislature's brewing battle over doing away with it altogether. Alimony -- more commonly termed "spousal maintenance" now -- won't disappear, but the idea of permanent maintenance will. A handful of states have taken up the cause. Illinois law allows permanent maintenance, if the court determines the award is just.
Permanent maintenance is "old-fashioned and antiquated," according to one reform advocate. He believes the idea of supporting an ex-spouse after divorce until he or she remarries or dies is too much of a burden on the paying ex-spouse.
A family law attorney counters that permanent maintenance is necessary, especially in cases of long-term marriages with one stay-at-home spouse. Typically, it is the wife who stays home to raise the kids, she explains. After 35 years of marriage, a divorce leaves her without income, without skills and without a retirement plan.
The new laws would add duration limits to maintenance payments. One proposal would award one year of maintenance for every year of marriage. This way, the reform proponent explains, the couple that marries at 19 and divorces at 29 isn't tied financially for the next 50 or 60 years.
Reform advocates also favor the temporary maintenance plans that support the ex-spouse as he or she gains the skills to be self-supporting. This idea was integrated into the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act of 1970 adopted (for the most part) by all 50 states.
Permanent maintenance really is permanent, too -- 'til death do you pay -- and reformers believe this is also unfair to the paying ex. They recommend ending maintenance at the retirement of the paying spouse.
They suggest further that payments should end if the receiving ex-spouse cohabits with a new partner. It is too easy, they imply, for receiving exes to work around the remarriage cut-off.
Whether a state's lawmakers embrace this reform depends on a number of factors and varies from provision to provision. For example, if the state has a conservative attitude toward marriage, chances are good that the cohabitation provision won't fly. A state like Illinois, though, that recognizes civil unions, might be more open to the idea.
The Illinois General Assembly will reconvene in January.
Source: Chicago Tribune, "Permanent alimony would become thing of past," Donna Gehrke-White, Dec. 7, 2011