September 30, 2013
By Judge Thomas W. Weissmuller (Ret.), Chair, Executive Committee, National Parents Organization of Connecticut
In a recent article in The Connecticut Law Tribune president-elect of the Connecticut Bar Association Mark Dubois, Esq. began, “I read somewhere that some lawyers are suggesting that the courts or the legislature develop standard guidelines for alimony. The idea seems to be that there is too much variation from judge to judge, region to region and the public would be better served with a more predictable and uniform system. We had better be careful with this; we might put ourselves out of business.”
Dubois continues, “We can see this phenomenon at work in our own profession. Trying to make the civil justice process less confusing and more open to self-represented parties, the court system developed a robust catalogue of "do-it-yourself" forms and guidelines. Things became routinized, and guidelines and standards were established for most cases. A skills-based system was replaced with a rules-based one.
“Now, instead of hiring lawyers to do simple divorces, litigants can watch a YouTube video and do it themselves. A skilled profession has been replaced with a do-it-yourself, rule-based, system. And many lawyers are out of business. If we replace a skills-based alimony system with a rules-based one, the market for legal services will shrink even more. Great if you market "how-to" books. Not great for lawyers.”
The change in alimony Dubois refers to is Connecticut law HB6688 revising statutes relating to the award of alimony. It is effective October 1, 2013. He can thank National Parents Organization and our new Connecticut Affiliate for this. Should we tell him that we have just begun?
Allow me to share my two cents. Many attorneys and judges support the imposition of rules, applicable to everyone, over the use of a practice book that speaks to attorney practice. This extra layer of judicial guidance protects attorney jobs and disempowers the public. The court was built to serve the public not attorneys.
Also, Rehabilitative Spousal Maintenance is a necessary, equitable component of domestic law. It ensures equity and allows both separating parties move forward on an equal basis, taking into account the resources each once dedicated to the other.
The proponents of Alimony assert that it addresses all the legitimate ends that Rehabilitative Spousal Maintenance was crafted to address; but it goes much farther. Alimony forms an indenture, a punishment for failing to fulfill a promise. It will increase when the payor is deemed to have caused the breakup of a marriage. This is illegitimate when one considers that marriage may be ended without reference to fault.
Alimony has its roots in church law. It compensates for loss of dowry, and ensures fathers will not resume paying for once married daughters. In other words, it is plainly outdated. It holds people who were once married to a different standard than others so it may, in certain instances, violate the equal protection clause of the U.S.Constitution.
Connecticut has moved one step closer to Rehabilitative Spousal Maintenance with this law. Mr. Dubuis represents the voice that restrains the legislature from making further equitable reforms; he speaks for the Connecticut Bar Association. In his words, they fight simple rule making to serve their own financial interests, not the interests of their clients. How telling.
HB6688 highlights the fact that alimony statutes are gender neutral in their application; makes the switch to gender inclusive language; and adds education and earning capacity to the list of factors for consideration. It also provides for a study of the fairness and adequacy of state statutes relating to the award of alimony to be conducted by the Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee.
National Parents Organization of Connecticut made the first round of changes with HB6688. With the Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee we are working to make even more progress for our members.
Thomas W. Weissmuller, Esq. is a retired judge who continues to support national “Access to Justice” reforms. Learn more about Access to Justice at the Washington State Bar Website, where Washington attorneys and judges aid the citizens in understanding the law and work to ensure equal access to the justice system.