Spousal Support: ‘Till Death Do us Part?

The issue of spousal support – and whether it should be permanent, linked to the length of a marriage, or linked to the financial capacity of the paying spouse – was recently raised by the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled that settlements should typically remain settled (i.e. unchanging) unless a spouse can prove a significant change.

However, a different view is being taken in some other jurisdictions, including Massachusetts, which recently passed a bill limiting lifetime alimony awards.Florida lawmakers are currently debating a similar bill, as are several other states.

Obviously, this is one of those “lightening-rod” issues that generates a great deal of discussion and, yes, more than its fair share of highly-emotional commentary (and not all of it civilized or productive). However, to me, this just speaks to how pervasive and personal this issue is for many people on both sides of the debate.

My current views on the issue are, I hope, a blend of compassion and pragmatism. Yes, I believe that some spouses (more often women, but I prefer to say “spouses” to be fair) sacrifice the rewards of a career by staying home to take care of the kids, and the courts have deemed that to be an appropriate role that is worthy of spousal support.

But if that system of support actually discourages spouses from remarrying or getting a job even if they had the ability or the opportunity to do so, then I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. Not only is society-in-general missing out on that person’s worthy contribution, but it sends the wrong message to the kids – one that could lead to some problems down the road.

I am also not certain that when one spouse stays at home for the sake of the children that the couple necessarily plan for that to be so forever. What if there were plans for one spouse to return to the workforce when the kids get a bit older?  But such plan can “disappear” when lifetime alimony is being discussed. I mean, day care IS quite expensive – but it’s very little compared to lifetime alimony.

I am sure I am not the only one who knows people who do not remarry because they know that it will mean an end to their alimony. I don’t think alimony was meant to do that.

Often I hear alimony is there to provide or sustain a lifestyle that the recipient is accustomed to and to provide them with financial certainty. The reality is, for most people, it costs less to live as a couple than to live in two different households. The lifestyle of everyone involved is compromised and should be shared. And, no one has financial certainty, I am not sure how we could ask the paying spouse to offer that to the receiving spouse. Especially in this economy, job loss is a possibility. If the couple were still married, and the working spouse lost their job, the whole family will have to pitch in, either reduce spending or the non working spouse may have to go find work.

For now, I guess the message is be careful if one spouse plans to quit their job and stay home with the kids. I for one would support in certain cases, alimony be viewed as a financial support to help one spouseas they transition to become independent.

Martha Chan Martha Chan is the co-owner and V.P. Marketing of Divorce Marketing Group , Family Lawyer Magazine and Divorce Magazine. She is responsible for all online and offline initiatives of the company. She is married to Dan Couvrette and is a step mother of two sons. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. She can be reached at (866) 803-6667 x 136 or marthac@divorcemarketinggroup.com.


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