In many family law practice areas, the basic legal parameters are well established among the states, with little variation. All states provide for no-fault divorce, New York being the last state to join in, just last year. The “best interests” standard is often centrally at work in matters involving children.
There are certainly exceptions, though, one prominent departure being the division existing among states concerning how asset distribution is to be carried out in a divorce settlement. Georgia, along with the majority of other states, provides for equitable distribution of property. Conversely, California and a few other states have a community property regime that can produce a quite dissimilar outcome.
Alimony, too, is an area where the states can differ appreciably. We have noted in a prior blog post (June 7) that alimony (often called spousal maintenance) is generally construed in Georgia as a narrow remedy that is not often granted by a judge, who holds considerable discretion over the matter.
As a matter of fact, Georgia didn’t even provide for alimony prior to the enactment of the Divorce Code in 1980. That statutory law sets forth two types of alimony, namely, rehabilitative (seen mostly as a short-term remedy) and permanent, which more often applies with an older spouse who sacrificed a career to raise a family, or is perhaps seriously ill, and who was in a lengthy marriage.
States are often in flux regarding alimony laws and awards, as evidenced by the enactment of a new law in Massachusetts just this week. The new legislation there sets forth enumerated guidelines for alimony, which is in decided contrast to Georgia, where no state guidelines exist to guide a judge in alimony determinations.
The Massachusetts law also ends permanent alimony, setting limits on payments based on the duration of a marriage. Again, and while Georgia courts are often somewhat restrictive in their permanent alimony rulings, the remedy does continue to exist in Georgia.
Related Resource: Boston Globe, “Mass. Gov. Patrick to OK changes to alimony laws” Sept. 26, 2011