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New alimony bill considered by California lawmakers

California lawmakers are considering whether a victim of a violent sexual crime perpetrated by a spouse should have to eventually pay alimony to the abusive former spouse. This issue was prompted by a woman who was sexually assaulted by her husband and then recently ordered by the court to pay alimony and legal fees to her ex.

The woman accused her husband of sexually assaulting her. He was convicted and subsequently jailed. The couple then divorced. In a typical divorce, California law requires spouses of certain income levels to pay alimony to the other spouse, on top of property division and division of assets. This alimony law, which strives for equitable division, by placing the spouses in a similar financial situation after the marriage, as existed during the marriage.

Under normal divorce circumstances, the woman would have been required to pay $3,000 per month in spousal support due to her income level. Because the domestic violence occurred, a judge lowered that to $1,000 per month.

The woman appealed the judge's ruling last year, calling it the "rape discount." However, the judge cited to California's alimony law, which entitled the ex-husband to alimony. If lawmakers rule that victims of sexual crimes committed by the ex-spouse do not have to eventually pay alimony to that same spouse, the judge's ruling will be overturned.

Those opposed to the bill argue that it mocks the intent behind laws that govern fair division of assets. The bill passed a bipartisan judiciary committee with only one dissenting vote. It will now head to the assembly floor.

California spouses face difficult decisions when marriages become strained, particularly in cases that include allegations of violence and abuse. A family law advocate can not only handle communication with parties but also help the individual receive a fair settlement in terms of child support, alimony and marital assets.

Source: ABC News, "Ordered to Pay Alimony to Her Attacker, Victim Seeks Help from Calif. Legislature," Alyssa Newcomb and Christina Caron, Mar. 21, 2012

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