Spousal Support Guidelines

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts did it over the summer. Now, the State of West Virginia is contemplating it. For divorcing couples in these states, it’s time to say goodbye to awards of lifetime alimony and hello to new spousal support guidelines.

The spousal support guidelines, similar to child support guidelines, are based on a mathematical calculation of economic means. In the past, spousal support or alimony was often granted long-term when one spouse (usually the wife) was unable to find gainful employment. Societal demands on the earning spouse (usually the husband) dictated supporting the non-earning spouse until retirement income or remarriage satisfied the financial burden. Spousal support guidelines will now calculate how much financial aid a spouse is to receive and for how long based solely on the numbers. And, living with a romantic partner will now satisfy the remarriage requirement to justify termination of spousal support. It’s a new world in some divorce courts.

Some parties believe it’s a huge step in the modernization of marital law in the US. As the proponents explain it, since women have equal opportunities as men in the workplace there’s no longer a systemic need for financial support of women for very long a time period after a divorce. They do concede that it often does take time for an unemployed spouse to find a job and settle into a gainful career. Minor children complicate the situation but the rules about child support go unchanged.

Opponents of these alimony-busting laws claim they are an attack on women and children with children being the most devastated casualties. Without long-term alimony, they argue, a women is forced to work long hours outside of the home which deprives children of essential care that hampers their growth and development. Again, child support is not the issue. The family law courts continue to view child support as a child’s right not the custodial parent’s. But by forcing a custodial parent to work full-time jobs in lieu of alimony is viewed by some as detrimental to a child and not in a child’s best interest.

Which side are you on in this marital law debate? Is this good for gender equality or bad for families?

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