Should Alimony be Predictable?

There are child support guidelines so that parents can determine the amount of money each must contribute for the purpose of raising their child.  The law dictates how the numbers to be plugged into the formula should be calculated.  When special needs or circumstances exist, the law provides for deviation from the formula so that parents, children and circumstances are taken into account.  Why is it more acceptable to project the financial support of a child and leave the support of a spouse a guessing game?

The state of New York has again become a leader by passing legislation adopting a formula for the calculation of alimony.  In an article entitled “Ending the Alimony Guessing Game,” published in the New York Times it was reported that the state has established a formula to calculate the amount of alimony to be paid while the divorce is pending.  The law permits deviation from the formula under special circumstances.

Pennsylvania already has a formula in place for the calculation of alimony pendente lite (alimony pending the finalization of the divorce).  There is much debate within the New Jersey Bar Association about whether the state should adopt a formula for calculating alimony.  I find that predictability is a very valuable tool in mediation when working with couples to simplify the process and arrive at an amicable resolution of their issues in a timely manner.  According to the New York Times article, “The unpredictability of alimony rules imposes several costs. Negotiating a settlement deal is much harder when spouses have no idea what they’ll end up with if they take their chances in court. Litigation drags on and the bills pile up when lawyers and experts have to prove their clients deserve any alimony at all.”

The predictability of the formula seems an undeniable step forward for less wealthy couples who would benefit most from the ease at finding a presumably fair alimony figure without the need to hire expensive attorneys for a court battle.  For the wealthier couples there is always the option of hiring high priced lawyers to argue on their behalf in court for deviation from the formulaic figure.  The formula brings alimony more in line with child support and can only mean progress toward a system in which couples can work more easily and more effectively toward resolving their legal issues in a healthier time frame.