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Divorced Men Call Alimony Unconstitutional

HARTFORD (CN) - Four divorced men sued Connecticut, claiming its alimony laws are unconstitutional, that alimony "burdens the right to end a marriage and to remarry."

The four Doe plaintiffs claim: "Alimony is an historical anachronism, a remnant from an earlier legal era when the rights of women vis-à-vis their husbands, and in society in general, were radically different than they are today.

"Connecticut's alimony scheme is 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 or alimony, has delegated basic policy decisions to the judiciary without any meaningful guidance."

All four Does were divorced, and ordered to pay alimony. They claim Connecticut has no statute to guide judges in ordering spousal support, so the courts are not required to "calculate alimony with mathematical prevision."

But the statute expressly requires the court to consider the "cause" of the divorce in calculating alimony. This, according to the plaintiffs, "permits and perhaps requires the court to use alimony to punish a spouse whom the court perceives to be at fault."

"Alimony is awarded in fewer than 20 percent of Connecticut divorces," the complaint states. "It is generally only awarded when the employment earnings of the husband are believed to materially exceed those of the wife, but is not awarded in all or even most such cases."

But it's difficult to say with any certainty because "Connecticut maintains no records concerning, and it is impossible to know (a) how many awards of alimony are in effect today or at any time; (b) what percentage of divorce judgments include alimony awards; (c) what percentage of alimony awards do and do not have durational limits; or (d) what is the average or median length of those alimony awards that do have durational limits," the Does say.

They claim: "It is 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."

In England, before American independence, when divorce could be granted only by an ecclesiastical court, it was a divorce from "bed and board," not a full divorce, as today, the Does say.

"Rather, it was simply intended to ensure that a husband continued to fulfill his existing legal obligation to support his wife, to whom he remained married but living apart. The word 'alimony' derives from the Latin 'alimonia,' which means 'sustenance.'"

The plaintiffs claim the alimony structure is unconstitutional because there is "no area of law other than family relations does Connecticut give a civil litigant the ability to use penal remedies to enforce a money judgment."

"The remedy of imprisonment is available whether or not the alimony recipient is employed, and whether or not the payer's default has created any risk that the recipient might become dependent on the state," the complaint states.

Adding insult to injury, according to the lawsuit, one party is often asked to pay for the other party's attorneys' fees. In the case of divorce, "only wives are ever awarded attorneys' fees," the complaint states. "They are awarded to wives even in pre-trial proceedings before the court has heard evidence, and are also awarded in post-judgment proceedings, when the spouses no longer have any legal or equitable interest in each other's property."

Connecticut's alimony scheme may dissuade people from getting married, the Does claim: "Alimony schemes like Connecticut's have had the opposite effect of discouraging citizens from marrying at all, whether or not they are in a committed relationship and whether or not they are raising children. The rate of births to women who are not married has increased dramatically, while the percentage of the population that is presently married or has ever been married has decreased significantly."

The Does seek declaratory judgment that the relevant Connecticut statutes violate the 14th Amendment, and a permanent injunction enjoining the application or enforcement of those statutes.

The only named defendant is Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

The four men are represented by Martin Karlinsky of New York City.

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