A lawsuit has recently been filed in federal court challenging Connecticut’s spousal support laws. Governor Malloy has been named as Defendant against a group of four anonymous plaintiffs – one each from Middlesex, Hartford, Fairfield and Middletown counties – who claim the state’s spousal support scheme is unconstitutional.
Representing the “John Doe” plaintiffs is Martin Karlinsky, a constitutional law expert, who argues that Connecticut’s spousal support awards – traditionally known as “alimony” – are arbitrary, varying wildly from county to county and judge to judge.
- A judge can award anywhere from zero spousal support to spousal support for life.
- A judge may award anywhere from 0 to 100% of the marital assets to either party.
In this case, the John Doe plaintiffs take further issue with the Connecticut statute that awards attorney’s fees to the non-monied spouse while the divorce is still pending. They claim that in no other kind of contract dispute or lawsuit can a party get awarded attorney’s fees before the merits of the case have been heard.
To address these concerns and others surrounding Connecticut’s family law statutes, the state legislature established the Connecticut Law Revision Commission. The Commission is charged with studying the fairness of state’s spousal support system by considering:
- Whether or not the current statutory criteria fairly awards spousal maintenance;
- Statistical data comparing the respective financial situations of the spouses prior to, during and after divorce; and
- The statutory criteria used by other states in deciding whether or not to award spousal support, and if so, for how long.
Rather than risk having a judge enter unanticipated orders when getting divorced, parties can work out a prenuptial agreement prior to marriage, or one or more postnuptial agreements during marriage to address changing circumstances and financial inequality within the marriage. Examples of such circumstances include one party leaving the workforce to stay home with children, an inheritance that only goes to one spouse – or any other situation that might have a major effect on the couple’s financial situation. If despite all good intentions a marriage fails, non-adversarial mediated or collaborative divorce can address issues of financial disparity and fairness in order to avoid expensive and protracted litigation.
This important federal lawsuit will bring national scrutiny to Connecticut’s much-criticized application of equitable distribution. In the rush to reform, it is my hope that lawmakers will not lose sight of the value of a judge’s discretion to address the individual circumstances of each family – because every case, like every family, is different.