Report calls for more consistency in alimony laws

Mike Moen

(Wisconsin News Connection) Two-thirds of the states do not have a defined formula for deciding alimony payments through divorce court proceedings. 

A new report says without that predictability, some people might not be getting a fair shake

Custody X Change, an online firm that helps families navigate divorce, is out with a new analysis of alimony laws across the country. 

The company's Managing Editor, Shea Drefs, said only about a third of states have a formula on the books. 

The remaining states essentially give judges discretion to sign off on an amount without a guideline. 

Settlement agreements often take shape beforehand, but Drefs said that's not always the case.

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© iStock - keeton12

"If you can't reach an agreement, because many people who are divorcing aren't on super great terms," said Drefs, "and they go to a judge and they say, 'Okay, you decide what should the alimony amount be.' If that's you going in, you have no idea what to expect."

Drefs said this can be especially problematic for those who can't afford an attorney to guide them through negotiations. 

The report also notes that of the states that do have a formula, only 10 have guidelines for how long payments should continue. 

The authors recommend implementing policies in states where there are none, and for ongoing assessments of existing formulas. 

Drefs said in cases where someone isn't able to secure fair terms, whether that's the person receiving the payments or the other half responsible for them, it can have a lasting effect. 

"Having bad alimony arrangements can have an impact on each of the ex-spouses," said Drefs, "on their children - and it can have ripple effects."

That might include housing instability or other forms of financial hardships. 

Drefs said while existing guidelines can help a judge make a decision, there's still flexibility to consider traditional factors, such as income levels for both spouses, their ages, and the length of the marriage.