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Is Permanent or Life Time Alimony Unfair and Outdated?

It is certain that Ari Schochet, a New Jersey man who has been sent to jail multiple times in the last two years for failing to pay court-ordered alimony resulting from his divorce from his wife of 17 years would answer in the affirmative. Schochet, who once worked as a portfolio manager earning $1 million a year, has been unemployed due to the decline in the economy almost consistently since his divorce. Despite his changed circumstances however, Schochet continues to be obligated to pay lifetime alimony to his ex-wife based on his former income. According to Schochet: “I paid it as long as I could.” But now however, due to his changed circumstances he is simply unable to meet this never ending obligation.

Like Georgia, New Jersey along with several other states look to the relative financial circumstances of each spouse, including income, earning power and other financial resources to determine whether alimony is appropriate, and if so the most appropriate amount. See O.C.G.A. § 19-6-1 et seq.  However, unlike in Georgia, in some states it is very hard, if not impossible to modify an award of alimony after it is rendered, even though the circumstances of the ex-spouses have changed. This is the situation that Schochet is dealing with in New Jersey. According to Georgia law though, alimony is modifiable for two main reasons: 1) due to the change in the income or financial status of either former spouse. See O.C.G.A. §§ 19-6-19 and 19-6-18. See also Douglas v. Cook, 266 Ga. 644 (1996) and 2) when the recipient spouse voluntarily cohabitates with a third party in a sexual or romantic relationship, and the obligated spouse seeks a modification of alimony as a result. O.C.G.A. § 19-6-19(a) and (b). See also Quillen v. Quillen, 265 Ga. 779 (1995).

Although fortunately in Georgia, alimony is modifiable, this fact still does not address the fundamental question of whether permanent or lifetime alimony is unfair or outdated. Because the circumstances of each family and each divorce are different, the equitable nature of lifetime alimony is something that must be determined on a case by case basis. With regard to whether lifetime alimony is outdated, even though Georgia law does not preclude lifetime or permanent alimony, in our experience as Georgia divorce attorneys, Georgia courts very rarely award lifetime alimony but prefer to award alimony for a certain specified number of years. Normally the alimony award is for a time sufficient to allow the receiving spouse to rehabilitate his or her financial situation post-divorce.

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Alimony Divorce
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