Group advocates for changes in antiquated alimony laws

BRATTLEBORO — We at Vermont Alimony Reform brought the issue of antiquated spousal support and maintenance laws to the attention of the Legislature when we testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last spring.

According to the most recent statistics, about 3.5 of every 1,000 Vermonters are divorced every year. Each year, that means almost 4,300 residents, families, and their small businesses - considered assets by current law - are paying the price for 1950s-era laws in dire need of reform.

That means you or someone you know is likely to be affected under the current system.

Our testimony resulted in the passage of S.52 by the Senate, which would have brought about a comprehensive review of these laws and would have included all parties affected by them.

We were encouraged by the quick support that we received from the Senate but, due to the lateness of the session, the House Judiciary Committee did not have adequate time to act on the Senate bill.

At the very end of the session, the Committee of Conference passed H.869, Section 8a, which ordered that on or before Jan. 15, 2017, the Family Division Oversight Committee of the Vermont Supreme Court was to submit a report to the Senate and House Committees on the Judiciary on its study of spousal support and maintenance guidelines in Vermont. The report was to include legislative recommendations for changes to Vermont's law concerning spousal support and maintenance.

Although Vermont Alimony Reform was excluded from the Family Division Oversight Committee's work, we offer the following legislative goals.

1. Spousal support should be designed to encourage self-sufficiency and independence for the lower-earning spouse through the use of training and transitional spousal support with specific guidelines and formulas to give Family Court judges direction and guidance, resulting in greater consistency, predictability, and fairness throughout the state of Vermont.

Spousal support should not be designed for lifetime maintenance of a pre-existing lifestyle while in the marriage.

Formulaic factors could include such items as number of years married, career or professional development constraints such as parental/familial obligations, and physical/mental health considerations.

Calculations should not include assumptions of future potential earnings of either spouse, based on past economic performance.

2. Spousal support terminates upon the recipient's remarriage or cohabitation.

Spousal support should not include support and maintenance of a former spouse's new partner, either directly or indirectly.

3. Current payors with modifiable judgments or agreements should have the right to file for a modification/reconsideration based upon the new guidelines until an established date, with specific written reasoning entered to the court record by the judge for denying any such attempts at modification.

4. A spousal support obligation terminates when the payor reaches the national full-retirement age. Establishing a predictable end date will allow the payor and payee an opportunity to plan and save for retirement. Everyone deserves to retire!

5. Specific guidelines for the term and amount of spousal support should be capped and based upon documented and reasonable financial need, with a maximum of 30-35 percent of the difference between the incomes of both parties. The intent is to create parity.

6. The Family Court must honor all legally binding prenuptial agreements, final stipulations, and/or contracts between the parties.

7. A subsequent spouse to the payor's income should never be considered when a payor remarries, either directly or implied.

We encourage your readers to reach out to their individual state senators and representatives to make them aware that they support spousal support and maintenance reform during this Legislative session.

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