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Federal lawsuit focus: challenge to alimony's legality

Spousal support in Georgia can often be an uncertain topic. That is, the guidelines for evaluating and awarding alimony are subjective and largely left to a judge's discretion. The result can be highly dissimilar awards handed down in cases where marriage duration, assets at issue and other factors are closely related.

As we have noted in past select posts, that material allowance for judicial subjectivity can have a huge effect on individuals going forward for years, sometimes for the rest of their lives. It can also have an outsized effect in a high-asset divorce case.

Many critics of alimony are likely following the developments of a case filed earlier this month in a Connecticut federal court by four divorced male plaintiffs. Those men are suing the state's governor, Dannel P. Malloy, alleging that Connecticut's alimony statute is impermissibly vague and denies fundamental protections under the federal Constitution.

The plaintiffs’ complaint states that alimony is “an historical anachronism” and that state officials should be permanently barred from enforcing Connecticut’s statutory law providing for maintenance.

Central to the men’s claim is that divorce, similarly to marriage, is a constitutionally protected liberty interest that is being unlawfully undermined by impermissibly vague alimony guidelines.

Although Connecticut statutory law lists numerous factors for judicial evaluation, the men state that judges are completely free to pick and choose from among such factors, or entirely ignore them in favor of other considerations, all without any duty of explanation. That open-ended discretion and lack of clarity concerning decisions makes meaningful judicial review “impossible,” states the complaint.

It also undermines marriage, say the men, and even discourages it, owing to the inability of any divorcing spouse to reasonably gauge what type of financial penalties will ultimately be assessed.

As noted in a recent article discussing the litigation, alimony reform is somewhat of a hot-button issue in Connecticut. The state legislature is currently examining a reform proposal addressing financial guidelines used to determine spousal support.

Source: ALLGOV, "Divorced men file lawsuit claiming alimomy is unconstitutional," Matt Bewig, Nov. 22, 2013

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