Letter: Reforming alimony in Vermont

Reforming alimony in Vermont

Editor of the Reformer:

Men and women across the state met recently to launch a Vermont Alimony Reform Movement. The new activist organization is known as Vermont Alimony Reform. The movement is being spearheaded by me, the elected president of the group, who is forced to pay lifetime alimony to an ex-wife who has since remarried after the divorce was final. In most states, remarriage of an alimony receiving spouse terminates an alimony obligation.

Vermont Alimony Reform's mission is to reform and update Vermont's archaic and outdated alimony laws. The goal is to follow the lead of neighboring Massachusetts whose legislature unanimously passed the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011. The highly successful, sweeping reform was the product of an Alimony Reform Task Force appointed by the chairs of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. Among the active participants of the Task Force was Steve Hitner, the president of the group Mass Alimony Reform.

Vermont Alimony Reform will be urging the Vermont Legislature to follow the successful process by establishing a similar Alimony Reform Task Force. The Task Force should include a representative of all interested parties, including but not limited to VAR, the Vermont Bar, the Women's Bar, judges, and members of the Legislature. Our goal is to bring predictability, consistency, and fairness to the family court system as it relates to divorce and alimony.

Our Legislative goals are: Encouraging self-sufficiency for the lower-earning spouse in a reasonable amount of time; establishing guidelines for the term of alimony payments based on the length of marriage and structure to provide consistency and predictability for litigated cases; encouraging mediation versus litigation; providing guidelines to allow both payors and receivers to prepare for their retirement; insuring a second spouse's income should never be a factor when a payor remarries; guaranteeing all financial obligations terminate automatically upon the recipient's remarriage; mandating alimony obligation terminates when the payor reaches the national full retirement age (currently 67) the ability to continue working should not be a factor. The current laws do not allow a payor to ever retire; setting the alimony amount based on need with a maximum of 30 to 35 percent of the difference of the incomes of both parties; establishing specific guidelines to give family court judges direction and guidance, resulting in greater consistency, predictability, and fairness throughout the entire state of Vermont; mandating that co-habitation of the receiving spouse for a period of three months should terminate an alimony obligation with a clear definition of co-habitation written in the law; allowing for the right of existing alimony payors, with modifiable judgments or agreements, to file for a modification based on the new guidelines; establishing alimony awards based on need and ability to pay rather than as an entitlement; classifying alimony to better fit the needs of people in divorce, including but not limited to rehabitational, re-imbursement, transitional and general term alimony; and any other reform to encourage and provide for people in divorce to move on with their lives as peacefully and amicably as possible.

Rick Fleming, Brattleboro, Jan. 11


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