Alimony: Factors or Guidelines Approach?
On January 1, 2007, Georgia’s most recent child support guidelines and related calculators went into effect. While there are child support guidelines in Georgia, there are no alimony guidelines, but rather factors that the finder of fact shall consider.
According to O.C.G.A. 19-6-5, the finder of fact shall consider the following factors when determining the amount of alimony, if any, to be awarded:
(1) The standard of living established during the marriage;
(2) The duration of the marriage;
(3) The age and the physical and emotional condition of both parties;
(4) The financial resources of each party;
(5) Where applicable, the time necessary for either party to acquire sufficient education or training to enable him to find appropriate employment;
(6) The contribution of each party to the marriage, including, but not limited to, services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party;
(7) The condition of the parties, including the separate estate, earning capacity, and fixed liabilities of the parties; and
(8) Such other relevant factors as the court deems equitable and proper.
Given these factors, and especially in light of the last factor, the dilemma may arise as to the predictability of how much alimony, if any, shall be paid and for how long. Different courts in separate counties may result in very disparate alimony awards. Attorneys experienced in family law can often predict what the likely result will be, but the lack of consistency between courts may give some parties the perception of an unfair result. Of course, when a case involves unrepresented parties or attorneys unfamiliar with family law or lacking experience in front of the assigned judge, the lack of familiarity and/or experience may result in very different views on alimony, which in turn can become a roadblock to settlement.
So should Georgia adopt alimony guidelines and formulas similar to other states? Would such an approach give more predictability, consistency, and a sense of fairness to alimony awards?
Or would such guidelines and formulas unnecessarily restrict judges and limit their abilities to judge each unique case on its own specific merits? Would formulas have the unintended consequence of making judges akin to a computer that just displays a number?
There are pros and cons to both approaches. Nevertheless, it is prudent for a party to at least consult with an attorney who is experienced in family law so that the party can ascertain his or her rights and potential obligations as they relate to alimony, whether or not the law provides for a “factors” or “guidelines” approach.