Connecticut judges still retain broad discretion in alimony orders

The state is so far fairly resistant to national reformist proposals.

Connecticut seems to be taking a slow and cautious approach to alimony reform as compared to that of some other states. While a few states have made major changes to their spousal support laws in response to a national reform movement, Connecticut has so far made only some small changes, but for the most part leaves broad discretion with state judges in divorce proceedings to fashion alimony awards.

One big push of some reformers has been to require judges to follow set guidelines that might look at factors like income and length of marriage to predetermine whether an award is available and its duration and amount. A state could require that judges follow guidelines; they could produce a recommendation for the judge to consider; or the judge could have some discretion within guideline parameters.

In 2013, the legislature ordered the Connecticut Law Revision Commission to conduct a study of Connecticut alimony laws and recommend any amendments to state statutes found "just and proper." The commission looked at whether the state should adopt guidelines and recommended that no alimony guidelines should be adopted.

Of course, a divorcing couple may negotiate a marital settlement agreement in which they resolve legal issues between them, including whether one of them will pay alimony, how much and how long. The parties are free to craft an alimony provision of their choosing, although like most settlements, the spousal support agreed to (if any) will be a product of compromise.

If no agreement is reached on alimony, the issues must be decided by the Connecticut state court judge handling the divorce. He or she is guided by state statute, which provides that the judge is to weigh the evidence submitted by each spouse and several specific factors:

  • Length of the marriage
  • Reasons for the divorce, a factor some states do not allow
  • Ages
  • Health
  • Stations
  • Occupations
  • Amount and sources of income
  • Earning capacity
  • Vocational skills
  • Education
  • Employability
  • "Estate" meaning assets of each
  • Needs of each
  • Division of property
  • "Desirability and feasibility" of a parent with custody of minor children becoming employed

In a nod to reformists who decry permanent awards that only end with death of either spouse or remarriage of the recipient, a provision was added to the alimony statute in 2013 requiring the judge to "articulate with specificity the basis for such order." So these awards are still allowed, but judges must set out on the record his or her reasons for doing so.

So, alimony may end according to the terms of the order or a party may come back to court later to show a "substantial change in the circumstances of either party" and request a modification or termination of the award. The judge may also modify an alimony award when the recipient lives with another person and the new living arrangement impacts the recipient's financial situation.

This is only a broad introduction to Connecticut alimony. Anyone facing divorce and its many issues should speak with a lawyer as early as possible to understand the options for proceeding and how state law is likely to impact the terms of the divorce should it end up in court.

Attorney Robert Skovgaard of the Law Office of Robert A. Skovgaard in Stamford represents clients in divorce and associated legal issues, including advising clients about alimony questions.