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The Alimony Debate

Alimony is financial support paid to a spouse when there is a divorce. It is not paid in all divorce cases. The general economic purpose of alimony is to prevent dependence on welfare benefits and to ensure that a spouse with significantly less income can maintain a reasonable standard of living. When a marriage ends it normally cost more to maintain two households rather than one with the same family income. There are many opinions about alimony. Should alimony be permanent? How long should an ex-spouse get alimony? Should a person who is unfaithful get alimony? Should a former wife be required to pay alimony to her ex-husband? The traditional family image of a mother, a father and children all living happily together has changed.

Today, about fifty percent of the medical school students and law school students are women. Although still not equal to men in earning power, there are many women executives and professionals earning substantial incomes. They may have to pay alimony. The Courts and laws are gender neutral.

Currently, factors to determine alimony under the law, but are not limited to: (1) need and ability to pay; (2) length of marriage; (3) age and health of parties; (4) standard of living; (5) earning ability and education; (6) length of absence from job market; (7) parental responsibilities; (8) time for retraining; (9)assets and debt impact.

There is no formula. Legislation was proposed to establish a formula but it has not yet passed. Case law is quite diverse as are the decisions of individual judges. It is important to understand the variables.

The new federal law has also changed alimony from being a taxable event whereby the payor would deduct alimony and the payee would claim it as his/her would taxes. May times a high earner, with a higher tax bracket, could pay the money to an ex-spouse with a lower tax bracket allowing the money to go further. This was a loophole for divorced people – now – the taxes for divorced people are also the same as for married couples, but the different, but the different filing status has an effect. Alimony is a complex matter, it’s important to have a lawyer with experience and knowledge.

Tanya Helfand is a Certified Matrimonial attorney. She also is a long-standing member of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA). Please call our office at 973-428-0800 if you have any questions or would like to schedule a free ½ hour consultation.