Iowa court OKs different alimony to aid shift to single life

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday formally recognized transitional alimony as a new type of support that may be considered in divorce cases, joining several other states that have accepted the practice.

The Iowa court’s decision came at in the case of a Dubuque physician who appealed an Iowa Court of Appeals decision that had awarded his ex-wife $1.2 million in alimony over 12 years. The Supreme Court ruled that factors in the marriage supported the need for an alternative to traditional alimony.

The court said transitional alimony may address an inequity not addressed by the other recognized categories of support.

“Divorcing spouses must adjust to single life. If one is better equipped for that adjustment and the other will face hardship, then transitional alimony can be awarded to address that inequity and bridge the gap,” the court wrote. “We now formally recognize transitional alimony as another tool to do equity.”

The new type of support for a former spouse may be considered in combination with previous alimony types when one spouse’s need for education or training to become self-sufficient is significantly out of balance with the other.

The current three types of alimony are rehabilitative, which supports a spouse who left the workforce to care for children or otherwise support the home to help them return to work; reimbursement, which relates to the economic sacrifices made by one spouse during the marriage that directly enhance the future earning capacity of the other; and traditional, which pays for life or for as long as a dependent spouse is incapable of self-support.

Several other states already consider transitional alimony, including Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Tennessee.

The Iowa court considered transitional alimony at the request of Dr. Suraj Pazhoor. The high court determined that his ex-wife, Hancy Chennikkara, was awarded too much for too long. It said transitional alimony was not needed in this case, but that judges from now on should balance the equity when awarding transitional alimony to “bridge the gap” from married to single life.

It said the factors in Pazhoor and Chennikkara’s marriage support a modified traditional alimony and rehabilitative alimony amounting to $714,000 over seven years. The court said that would be sufficient time for Hancy Chennikkara to complete a master’s degree to increase her earning capacity while working part-time and sharing physical care of their children.

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