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State updates antiquated alimony laws

In Georgia, alimony is largely unregulated by state laws. This was done purposefully by the state legislature, with the intent that Georgia family court judges be given significant discretion to award alimony if, when, and how it is the most appropriate for a divorcing couple and their financial situation. This, of course, can be good or bad, depending on which side of the alimony dispute you find yourself on.

In recent years, Georgia judges have shown resistance to automatic awards of alimony. Instead, they tend toward rehabilitative alimony, which is awarded to a spouse for a set period or years or until a specific goal is achieved, such as completing a degree or finding gainful employment. The purpose of this is to ensure that a spouse who has stayed at home with the couple's children nor otherwise out of the job market for many years is able to support him or herself.

Although Georgia law does allow judges to award permanent, or lifetime, alimony, it is less common. That is not the case in several other states, where state family laws dictate that all alimony must be permanent, regardless of changes in the parties' financial circumstances.

For example, in Massachusetts, judges are not permitted to set a time limit on alimony. The only circumstances that will allow for the end of alimony payments are remarriage or death. Former spouses are not even able to amend their alimony when they retire, an event that usually comes with a fairly significant change in financial circumstances. Further, the court does not take into account the financial situation of the spouse that receives alimony, which means that a spouse with a lower income may actually end up making payments to a spouse with a higher income.

Recently, the Massachusetts legislature enacted sweeping reforms to the state alimony laws, allowing judges more lenience in prescribing alimony terms and conditions. Although the law does not take effect for eight months, parties who divorce under the current law may go back and petition the court for an update to their alimony award.

Source: Huffington Post, "Alimony in the Air: Arnold, Maria, Massachusetts and Florida," Elizabeth Benedict, August 1, 2011

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