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Adjoining states, markedly differing alimony regimes

As we have noted in past select blog posts, the singular nature in which the United States is laid out -- 50 states, each with its own government and state enactments on matters from A to Z -- makes for some interesting and material differences in legal outcomes across state lines.

Take alimony, for instance. It wouldn’t seem unreasonable to expect that legislation concerning spousal maintenance, and the public’s attitude toward it, would be more or less similar and aligned in states with adjoining borders.

That is flatly not the case with a comparison of the legal regimes in Georgia and Florida with respect to alimony, though. Although there are differences of opinion concerning it in Georgia, and occasional discussion of how an alimony outcome can differ appreciably based on the judge who exercises discretion over it, alimony in Florida is a highly controversial and oft-debated subject, by comparison.

In fact, there has been a strong grass-roots movement in that state for some time seeking to abolish permanent alimony, as well as to enable court divorce filings to be reopened and alimony awards tweaked retroactively. The Florida governor recently vetoed a bill that would have allowed for broad-sweeping changes to, essentially, rein alimony in on many accounts. Reformists have revamped their efforts, and a further push is forthcoming.

In Georgia, a comment frequently made concerning alimony is that its outcome can be unpredictable. Unlike the case with child support, where judges are tasked to follow a specific statutory formula, courts exercise wide latitude and discretion in alimony determinations. There is no prescribed formula that limits their decisions, and the factors that they consider are mere guidelines.

Notwithstanding that ambiguity (and perhaps because of it), one thing emerges as eminently clear in Georgia’s subjective alimony context: Having a proven divorce attorney with deep knowledge of the relevant factors and close familiarity with the courts and relevant processes can make a material difference in outcome in a given case.

Source: Sun Sentinel, "Alimony reform advocates retooling legislation," Kathleen Haughney, Sept. 15, 2013

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