Thursday, May 17, 2007

Olsen v. Olsen - A Strong Argument Against Lifetime Alimony

Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."
--Sir Winston Churchill,

OLSEN v. OLSEN, 98 Idaho 10 (1976)

The case of Olsen v. Olsen, which was ruled on by the Idaho Supreme Court, lends one of the strongest messages of support of our premise that Florida's present-day "lifetime" alimony statutes are considered Involuntary Servitude by a Supreme Court Justice and desperately in need
of reform.

Keep in mind that this case was decided back in 1976 and what was said back then is even more applicable today. In part, Justice Shepard's dissent says:

“Secondly, I believe that the facts of the instant case emphasize the need for re-examination of
the entire concept of alimony and the continuing viability of that concept in contemporary society. Put in different words, the question facing the Court is whether a judicially imposed system of involuntary servitude is to be continued wherein one human being is placed in bondage to another for what is effectively the remainder of his natural life…..

….From a financial standpoint, the dissolution of a marriage should be no different in logic and law than the dissolution of any other partnership. Since the real wealth of any good marriage results from the joint contribution of the spousal partners, each should be entitled to their fair share of the assets at dissolution. While in the case of a marital partnership, dissolution may result in an equal division of the community assets such is not an absolute necessity and in the proper circumstances there is nothing to prevent the wife being awarded the lion's share or indeed all of the assets of the marriage partnership. I.C. § 32-712.

In pursuit of a solution to the continuing judicial headaches of alimony some states have moved in
the direction of term alimony. Such a concept is no less illogical, impractical and without societal
foundation or necessity in the Twentieth Century than permanent alimony. While I agree with the
object of this doctrine insofar as it is designed to sever the duties of support at an early, finite date, it nonetheless perpetuates the idea that one spouse has an obligation to care for the needs of the
other beyond dissolution of the marriage as an amorous and financial enterprise. See, Clark,
"Divorce Policy and Divorce Reform," 42 Univ.Colo.L.Rev. 403 (1971). In this respect it has the
danger of fostering an entirely new but still irrational doctrine, different in name but not in substance from its historic predecessor. I therefore am of the opinion that the previous discussion relating to permanent alimony is equally applicable to term alimony.

In my judgment the time has long since passed when the state and its judiciary should cease its
unwarranted, unnecessary, irrational intrusion into the lives of its citizens simply because at one time they occupied a marital status.

In the absence of other factors, we would not countenance the demand of an ex-employee for
lifetime support from his ex-employer merely because of the termination of the previously existent
employment relationship. How ludicrous would we consider a demand for lifetime support for one
who once engaged in a dissolved partnership, the assets of which have been distributed. We would undoubtedly laugh out of court an able bodied person past the age of majority who demanded a judicially mandated lifetime support from another person on the sole basis that a parent-minor child relationship had once existed.

I deem it obvious that in all those instances regardless of a plaintive plea that "I gave him (or her) the best years of my life," we would nevertheless rule that when the legal relationship terminated and the accounts were settled each person was required to go his own way freed of liability to the other. In each of these cases we would certainly refuse to institute a system of lifetime peonage and bondage and I doubt not that in the event we complied with such requests we would be speedily overruled by higher authority on constitutional grounds.

Why then do we tolerate, continue and judicially mandate a system of lifetime serfdom upon the
dissolution of a marriage relationship? I deem there to be no answer to that question except "that's
the way we've always done it." The law of domestic relations requires more than placebos and
patent medicines. It is long past time for judicial surgery to excise the doctrine of alimony from the
body of the law of domestic relations.”

Read the entire case cite.


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* Florida Lawyer: Internet resources on Florida law.

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