Ongoing national alimony reform: Georgia’s historical stance

A recent media article chronicles the growing surge of alimony reform currently underway in an ever-increasing number of states, including some — such as Florida and both Carolinas — that are in close proximity to Georgia.

The ongoing debate and multiple bills that are being passed in various states’ legislatures might not actually seem all that interesting or relevant to many Georgia residents. The “bad law” cited by proponents of change in many states and what they say are often draconian and patently unfair outcome based on out-of-date statutory mandates is largely absent in Georgia, where alimony has historically been construed as a narrow judicial remedy following divorce.

We have visited the point in previous blog posts, noting that — unlike many other states — Georgia law didn’t even provide for alimony (also called spousal maintenance) until relatively recently. In fact, it was written into the state’s Divorce Code in 1980.

Moreover, and again being dissimilar to the situation in many other states, Georgia judges comparatively entertain a great amount of discretion in considering and awarding alimony. In some other states, that degree of discretion lacks, with, instead, laws that explicitly state what is required in a given case.

The point most fundamentally made in other states by those who seek change is that current laws were often written in times that now seem almost fictional, that is, when marriages seldom failed and women almost never worked outside the home or had independent income. Under those circumstances, a divorce often meant true and dire hardship, with alimony being a necessary tool to ensure a divorced woman wouldn’t become destitute.

Thus, the impetus in many states is to replace those laws with new ones.

Some people, while noting the need for change, fear that, citing “unintended consequences” and the adverse role that newly enumerated rules might play in certain instances in unduly harming a spouse with legitimate need. They say that such rules might hamper judges from exercising discretion to ensure an equitable outcome.

That seems unlikely in Georgia, where judges have always had ample discretion over alimony. Indeed, and unlike states such as Massachusetts, no statutory guidelines even exist to guide a state judge in an alimony determination.

Source: USA TODAY, “Should alimony laws be changed?” Yamiche Alcindor, Jan. 19, 2012

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