I have previously written on the need for alimony reform. California law affecting what we call “spousal support” creates a situation where the supported spouse has, in many cases, little if any incentive to work. Moreover, the legal presumption that one who is married for ten years or more is entitled to support until death or remarriage is patently unfair, mandating that the payor of support continue to fund the recipient’s lifestyle for years far beyond the duration of the marriage. Rather than being rehabilitative, our spousal support laws reward the spouse who historically did not work or made less income to the expense of the higher earning spouse.
While our Sacramento legislators have not been interested in making people responsible for themselves, and would rather put the burden on the individual taxpayer, it appears that the concept of alimony reform is getting traction in at least some states. As previously addressed, for many years the State of Texas has limited the duration of alimony to five years with a cap on the amounts that can be ordered paid to the recipient of $5,000 per month. Back in 2007, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers recommended that alimony laws be changed nationwide to restrict the amount of alimony and the duration. That recommendation led to the State of Massachusetts abolishing permanent alimony in 2011. It also resulted in Massachusetts promulgating guideline amounts of alimony that are to be ordered in each case. The Massachusetts law further provides that alimony obligations end when the payor reaches normal retirement age according to the Social Security Administration. It provides for modification or termination when the supported spouse takes up residence with someone for three months or longer.
The State of New Jersey adopted alimony reform just this past month. On September 10, New Jersey adopted alimony reform which in several regards is similar to the Massachusetts law. Under New Jersey law, there is a rebuttable presumption that payment should end when the payor reaches age 67. New Jersey judges can terminate alimony if the recipient is cohabiting with someone, and in marriages of less than 20 years in duration, support cannot be ordered for a period of time longer than the marriage itself. The presumption that alimony should be permanent has been removed from the law entirely.
It is unfortunate that our own legislature has failed to take up the subject of alimony reform. The very inequities which the Massachusetts and New Jersey laws intended to address are present in our existing system. California is usually at the forefront of changes to the law. We were the first state to adopt “no-fault” divorce. It is unfortunate that in regard to alimony, California will not take a leadership role, to the detriment of its own citizens.