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Alimony bill signed into law



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, July 09, 2018 5:50PM

An alimony reform bill was recently signed into law by Governor Chris Sununu, with the goal of creating clearer expectations for the process.

The bill reached the governor’s office several weeks ago and was signed on Monday, June 25.

The bill, Senate Bill 71, was formed by a cohort of several experts in the divorce fields, including several lawyers, divorce financial experts and Temple mediator Honey Hastings, who said in an interview with the Ledger-Transcript that the need for reform was clear, based on both SB71, and a competing bill that came from the House this year, which had similar goals through different means.

Divorce proceedings are increasingly settled out-of court, Hastings explained, but when there are issues related to alimony, it almost always ends up in front of a judge, because the metrics to determine how much alimony is to be paid and for how long are not uniform.

“Right now, the results are so unpredictable that it’s almost always mitigated,” Hastings said.

SB71 would create a more predictable formula, Hastings said, with the goal of reducing the need to go to court, while leaving enough flexibility that judges can make adjustments based on circumstance.

The initial test for whether alimony is to be granted is the same as it is now, said Hastings: Whether one party requires alimony to maintain their current lifestyle, and if the other party can pay it while maintaining their current lifestyle.

If alimony is to be paid out, the bill sets out the formula as the difference between the two parties gross income (adjusted for child support payments) times 30 percent.

The bill also makes clear how long alimony should go on for – in most cases, half of the length of the marriage. There are provisions that allow judges to make adjustments to that, based on whether the couple lived together and shared expenses for a period before a marriage, or separated and lived separately and financially independent from each other prior to the divorce. Hastings used the example of a same-sex couple, who may have been living as a couple for years before legally being allowed to marry.

“This creates predictability because we have a formula for providing the amount and the duration. You need that predictability because it’s the easiest thing for a judge with a lot of cases and not a lot of time,” Hastings said. It’s also likely that more cases will be settled out-of-court, she added, because the standard will be the same across the board.

Jay Markell, a divorce lawyer with several offices in New Hampshire, who assisted with crafting a competing House bill this session, said that this provision of the new law is unconstitutional, and will cause problems for New Hampshire as it is put into practice.

“They are impugning a non-existent marriage onto a relationship. You can’t say I was married when I wasn’t married,” said Markell in an interview on Thursday.

“It has some good parts, but there are some key parts that have some significant, major, major, major problems,” Markell said.

Markell also argued that the new law would allow the state to change marriage records, including records of marriages in other states.

“There’s a lot more to this than meets the eye,” he said.

Hastings rebutted the idea that the law would allow for the changing of marriage records, saying the intent was merely to allow a judge to consider relationships on an individual basis for the purpose of alimony, not to change official records.

“I haven’t found anyone that found it confusing other than Mr. Markell,” Hastings said.

The bill was signed into law on June 25, and will become effective as of Jan. 1, 2019.

Ashley Saari can be found at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.