Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Is It Time for Alimony Reform?

By: Carole L. Chiamp

Family law judges have long been in charge of determining alimony/spousal support to be paid in divorce cases. According to the IRS about $9 billion dollars in alimony is paid each year by former spouses. Alimony in Michigan recognizes a number of factors in awarding support including past relations and conduct of the parties, the source and amount of property awarded to the parties, the present situation of the parties, general principles of equity, age, length of the marriage, health of the parties, education, former standard of living, ability to pay, needs, factors such as giving up a job for the sake of the family and various other factors.

Most recently the State of New York has adopted a formula for payment of support which makes alimony awards fairer and more predictable. Unfortunately, though Michigan has several formulas that have been proffered by attorneys to some judges, they are not uniformly used and are not binding. Of course this results in wildly inconsistent alimony awards. For example, in Ohio recently judges were asked how much a homemaker married to a doctor should receive. Family judges in that survey estimated $5,000 to $175,000. (By the way, a similar exercise was conducted several years ago in Michigan at a seminar with strikingly similar results.) Unpredictability of alimony causes negotiating nightmares, higher legal fees, emotional costs due to people staying in marriages because of the uncertainty of being able to make it after the divorce.

In a recent article in The New York Times, Ending the Alimony Guessing Game, written by Alexandra Harwin, she explains New York’s new law which attempts to make things fairer:

Under the formula, alimony is set at 30 percent of the higher-earning spouse’s income, minus
20 percent of the lower-earning spouse’s, as long as the recipient doesn’t end up with more than 40 percent of the couple’s combined income. For example, a banker making $500,000 a year married to a writer earning $50,000 could expect to pay around $140,000 a year.

Along with New York, Pennsylvania and Colorado are switching to numerical guidelines. Of course, some discretion must still be allowed for judges to act in unusual circumstances.

Alimony awards should not resemble the lotto. They should be fair, well-reasoned and predictable. The issue for Michigan is worrisome however. Our legislature is currently trying to pass legislation which disrupts years and years of property law which, if passed, will seriously affect homemakers, mostly women. If that is how they see property, what would they do with alimony?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The (Sometimes) Surprising Benefits of Divorce for Parent-Child Relationships

By: Jonathan Weiler and Anne J. Menkens, The Huffington Post

We've said before that a general presumption exists whereby intact families are always better for kids than families of divorce. There are understandable reasons for this widespread view. Divorce often accompanies a range of challenges and problems, including a drop in living standards, the disruption of existing family rhythms and the presence, in all too many cases, of high conflict between the parents, putting a terrible burden on the children.

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

After Same-Sex Marriage, Same-Sex Divorce

By: Clyde Haberman, The New York Times
Published: June 27, 2011

Just as florists and caterers expect to benefit from same-sex marriage, divorce lawyers assume that in time, they will have more clients.

For the full article, click here.