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The long-term debate over alimony

Here in Minnesota, judges can award spousal support as a way to provide for a more equitable divorce. Spousal support, more commonly known as alimony, is a court order designed to help a spouse cope with the economic impact of a divorce. Spouses who are asked to pay spousal support must give a certain amount of money each month to their ex-spouse. This is an especially common concern in high-asset divorces, where one spouse works and the other does not.

Alimony comes in two common forms, each with its own specific purpose. Short-term alimony is designed to help a previously nonworking spouse attain the skills he or she needs to reenter the working world. This type of alimony usually lasts for a period of months or years, giving the spouse the time and funding he or she requires. Short-term alimony seeks to ensure that both spouses have a place in the workforce.

Long-term or permanent alimony, on the other hand, is usually applied after a marriage that lasted a long time. This form of alimony acknowledges that the nonworking spouse has passed up the opportunity to build a career; permanent alimony, then, provides economic assistance to compensate for this fact.

In recent years, many people have begun to question our current alimony system, calling for widespread reforms. The fact is, however, that divorce has severe economic consequences that cannot be ignored. In today's economy, it can be very difficult for people to find a job, especially if they are reentering the workforce after several years. This burden falls disproportionately upon women, who make up the large majority of alimony recipients. According to the Social Security Administration, "divorced women have had the highest poverty rates among all aged women in the United States."

Before reforming alimony, then, we should consider what the process is intended to do and how it is intended to help. Divorced spouses often need some assistance to get back on their feet; in these situations, alimony is an excellent way to make a divorce more equitable.

Source: The Daily Record, "Alimony still serves important purpose" Ronald G. Lieberman, Jan. 16, 2014

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