Connecticut alimony law still fairly traditional; amendments not passed

State law leaves judges wide discretion in most alimony matters.

Both parties to a Connecticut divorce have huge stakes in the question of whether alimony will be granted. Also called spousal support or spousal maintenance, alimony is the payment of support from one ex-spouse to the other, usually monthly, either for a set duration or indefinitely. While some other states have recently enacted alimony reforms, Connecticut did not pass legislation introduced to do so and state judges still have wide discretion in fashioning alimony awards.

Connecticut's alimony law is fairly simple. Unless alimony is negotiated as part of a marital settlement agreement, the judge in the dissolution of marriage trial will make alimony decisions, including whether an award is appropriate, its amount and duration, by considering the evidence in light of a specific list of factors vis-à-vis each parties:

  • Cause of divorce
  • Age
  • Health
  • Station
  • Occupation
  • Income amount and source
  • Earning capacity
  • Vocational skills
  • Education
  • Employability
  • Estate and needs
  • Property division
  • Desirability and feasibility of work for the custodial parent of a minor child

Connecticut case law says that these factors do not have to be weighed equally and that others may be considered.

Trial court decisions in alimony and other domestic relations issues are normally only reversed on appeal if there was an abuse of discretion or the trial judge's findings were clearly erroneous. (This deference to the trial court underscores the importance of retaining an experienced divorce attorney in a divorce trial.)

A party can come back to court to request alimony modification if there has been a substantial change in circumstances for either party (unless the original decree says that modification is not allowed). If the divorce incorporated an agreement of the parties that allows modification in other circumstances, the court may honor that provision.

Connecticut law also gives a judge discretion to modify alimony if the recipient is "living with another person under circumstances" that "alter the financial needs of that party."

In 2013, the legislature ordered that the Connecticut Law Revision Commission study alimony and recommend "just and equitable" changes, which was done through an appointed committee. After public input, the committee ultimately recommended certain changes that were incorporated into proposed legislation that did not pass in 2014 or 2015, mainly:

  • The list of alimony factors should be expanded to include tax consequences and both net and gross income.
  • When modification is requested based on the recipient's cohabitation, more specific procedural direction to the court should be provided; namely, that if the payor shows that the recipient has been living with another person "in a marriage-like relationship" for at least six months, the recipient should have to prove that alimony should not be modified, considering the evidence and the original alimony factors.
  • In a request to modify or terminate alimony based on the payor's retirement, if he or she is at least 65, the recipient would have to show why it should not be changed. If the payor retires before age 65, the payor would have to show why it should be.

Significantly, the committee declined to recommend alimony guidelines, in contrast to some other states that have done so, although usually with provision for judges to depart from them in extraordinary circumstances.

It will be interesting to see whether the reforms are proposed again next session.

From his office in Shelton, attorney James Cuddy of The Law Offices of James A. Cuddy, LLC, represents clients on both sides of the alimony question and in other family law matters in New Haven and Fairfield Counties.