Divorced Men File Lawsuit Claiming Alimony is Unconstitutional
Condemning alimony as “an historical anachronism…from an earlier legal era when the rights of women…were radically different than they are today,” four divorced men last week sued Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for enforcing the state’s alimony law, which they say is “unconstitutionally vague.” Their complaint, filed in U.S. District Court, asks the court to declare that the relevant state statutes violate the 14th Amendment and to permanently enjoin the state from enforcing them.
Although the complaint takes note of national conditions when it states that “former spouses pay approximately $9 billion in alimony each year,” the lawsuit is specific to Connecticut and rests on two main propositions.
Based on Supreme Court cases like Loving v. Virginia (which struck down anti-miscegenation laws) holding that the right to marry is a fundamental liberty interest protected by the 14th Amendment, the complaint argues that “the right to end a marriage, and the right to remarry are fundamental liberty interests” as well.
The plaintiffs, all of whom are divorced men ordered to pay alimony, criticize Connecticut’s alimony laws on the grounds that they are “unconstitutionally vague, giving no notice to citizens contemplating marriage or divorce what fate may befall them in a divorce proceeding. The Legislature, by failing among other things even to identify the purpose or aim of alimony, has delegated basic policy decisions to the judiciary without any meaningful guidance.”
According to the complaint, the state’s alimony laws are so vague that judges may do pretty much whatever they want. Although the statutes list 17 separate factors for judges to consider in awarding alimony (“the length of the marriage, the causes for the…dissolution, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, earning capacity, vocational skills, education, employability, estate and needs of each of the parties…the division of the spouses’ marital property [and] in the case of a parent [with] custody of minor children…the desirability and feasibility of such parent’s securing employment”) the complaint states that “definitive case law holds that the court is free to assign to each factor whatever weight the court deems appropriate in any individual case” and may even “consider factors other than those identified in the statute.”
In light of the fact that Connecticut case law holds that trial judges need not explain what factors they considered or how they calculated alimony in their written decisions, the complaint argues that, “meaningful judicial review of trial court awards of alimony is impossible.” The Supreme Court has long held that a statute is unconstitutional if it so vague that an appeals court cannot determine if a trial court’s decision is consistent with it or not.
The end result is to undermine marriage, argue the five divorcés. Because the state’s alimony laws make it “impossible for any married person in Connecticut to know, even within a reasonable range, what financial penalties will be imposed upon him in a divorce judgment,” people are “discourage[ed]…from marrying at all, whether or not they are in a committed relationship and whether or not they are raising children.”
The plaintiffs are not alone in their criticism of Connecticut’s alimony law. A reform proposal was considered last year by the state legislature, which created a task force to study the use of financial guidelines in determining alimony. The results of that study are expected in February.
To Learn More:
Divorced Men Call Alimony Unconstitutional (by Christine Stuart, Courthouse News Service)
Lawsuit Challenges Connecticut Alimony Laws (by Amaris Elliott-Engel, Connecticut Law Tribune)
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