Alimony Reform Could Limit Payments To Exes

Good News For Newt: Alimony Laws Reconsidered

The economics of divorce are changing.

First up: Who pays. Traditionally, ex-husbands are on the hook to pay alimony. Newt Gingrich, for example, paid $19,800 in alimony in 2010 to one of his ex-wives (his tax return didn't say which one.) But increasingly, alimony has become a two-way street, with the higher-earning spouse--wife or husband--on the hook for payments to the lesser-paid one.

As ABC news reported, one real estate agent in Massachusetts was ordered in 2006 to pay nearly $100,000 in annual support to her ex-husband after their breakup.

Next up: The idea of alimony itself. As the New York Times reported this weekend, grass-roots movements in several states, including Florida, New Jersey and Massachusetts, are pushing to reform alimony laws to better reflect changing economic realities of marriage and work.

Florida's state House recently approved legislation that makes it harder for courts to award lifelong alimony and in the case of remarriage, make it illegal to consider the new spouse's income in awarding payments, according the New York Times.

Reformers seek to relieve the economic burden on payers; for now that affects more men than women, but it depends on who earns more money. It is still the exception, rather than the norm, when the wife of a couple is the primary breadwinner.

And reform is tricky business. Changes in the law could undermine economic stability for spouses who do not have the earning power or skills to onramp into the workforce and who do not have retirement savings from working. Supporters say times have changed and ex-spouses have a better chance to support themselves these days.

Alimony laws, much like marriage and divorce laws, vary from state to state. In the past, alimony payments were designed to make sure that spouses, traditionally women who stayed at home to raise the family, were not left penniless after a divorce. Even for women who are able to on ramp into the work force after years at home raising children have a difficult time finding equal pay.

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