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The debate over alimony payments

In recent years, the concept of spousal support - better known as alimony - has come under attack by those who feel that society has outgrown the system. Spousal support is a legal agreement by which one spouse (in about 95 percent of cases, the male) is asked to pay a certain amount of money each month to his or her former spouse.

Alimony can have two different purposes. Temporary alimony lasts a certain number of months or years. It is intended to give the nonworking spouse time to gain the skills he or she needs to re-enter the job market.

Long-term or permanent alimony is intended to allow the nonworking spouse the ability to maintain the lifestyle he or she had before the divorce. The rationale for this type of alimony is that the nonworking spouse sacrificed multiple economic opportunities by exiting the job market; the alimony is intended to compensate the spouse for these lost opportunities.

Proponents of alimony reform argue that the process was created when divorce required an "at-fault" party and still supports that idea. Reformers argue that the alimony system provides nonworking spouses with an incentive to stay out of the workforce, harming the economy as a whole.

The idea of alimony reform is not a new one. In fact, an Illinois Supreme Court Judge once spoke out against alimony, noting in 1925 that the process allowed women to keep a "financial stranglehold" on men. For decades, reformers have been pushing for changes in the system.

Whether it is truly time for reform or not, it is important to remember what alimony is for, and how it can assist in each case. Those involved with a divorce should consider their case carefully and individually, to determine the most equitable outcome for each spouse.

Source: The Daily Record, "Alimony still serves important purpose" Ronald G. Leiberman, Jan. 07, 2014

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