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Alimony: Proposed Legislation

Alimony, now referred to as spousal support, is an important issue for couples entering divorce. Spousal support is paid from one partner to the other to assist them financially. It is based on a broad range of considerations, including the couple’s quality of living while married, the duration of the marriage, the spouse’s ability to afford paying support, and the economic state of the spouse seeking support.

In California, spousal support is considered to be “rehabilitative,” and therefore it is intended as a short-term solution for a wife or husband to regain their footing. Alimony is granted to allow the non-wage earning partner to get more education or attain the skills necessary for the partner to be a competitive candidate in employment markets. In many instances, spousal support could reconcile the considerable financial differences that result when a husband or wife chooses to be the homemaker during the marriage.

Family court judges have ample authority in ordering spousal support, but this this may change soon if the proposed legislation in Senate Bill 481 becomes law. Senate Bill 481, submitted by California Senator Rod Wright, calls for judges to take into account the value of assets and income paid in the spouses’ property settlement in deciding on spousal support. The purpose of this bill is to prevent overreaching spouses from “double dipping” and to avoid counting the supporting spouse’s income twice.

The concern of double dipping might arise in several various cases. For example, a court may double count a spouse’s pension benefits by first awarding a portion of the benefits to the non-earner spouse, then basing the calculation of spousal support as if the earner spouse still has all of his pension benefits, including the portion that was previously awarded to the non-earner spouse.

Proponents of the bill argue that this concern can also come up with property divisions involving family businesses, annuities, and properties that may produce future revenue. A husband or wife who wants to keep such property for themselves must buyout their spouse’s share. It is important to consider, however, that potential future revenue earned on such property after the buyout would be considered in measuring alimony, even if the spouse’s share was already included in the property settlement.

If this bill is enacted, it could lead to lower amounts being awarded as spousal support. Although this bill has gained support from the Family Law Section of the California State Bar Association, it is harshly criticized by many feminist groups who believe that this characterization of income should not change since such bought-out property would still produce revenue.

Proponents of the bill argue that reforming the spousal support system is beneficial to both parties in a divorce because, like wage-earning men, successful business women can also be exploited by the current support laws. Nonetheless, the bill will continue to be a highly debated issue.

If you are considering divorce, it is important to consult a family lawyer immediately.  Call us today at (310) 598-1719 for a free consultation.

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