Nowadays one dollar per year alimony has become common in Connecticut, but why? Many people see this nominal award and are left with many questions such as: Is this a joke? Did the paying spouse just win? How could a dollar a year be alimony? Well here is the not so simple answer, an award of one dollar per year is a good thing…maybe.
This type of award is more of an insurance policy for the parties involved, the court, and the state. By awarding one dollar, the court retains jurisdiction over the parties, and the right to modify the award if circumstances require it in the future. If no alimony is given, the court would have no such jurisdiction. The Connecticut Practice Series has commented on what purpose this award serves and the explanation in it’s entirety is as follows:
Limitations on Alimony Awards
There is one major limitation on the discretion of the court to award alimony. The failure to award alimony at the time of the original dissolution forever precludes a later award of alimony regardless of how the circumstances may have changed.
This could make for some very hard choices and potentially harsh results if there is doubt at the time of the dissolution as to either the alimony recipient’s future needs, or the resources from which an alimony order could be paid. In such a case, the courts frequently order alimony to be payable at the rate of one dollar per year. This serves to preserve the jurisdiction of the courts to order additional alimony in the future if the situation so requires.
In some instances such a measure is clearly intended primarily to protect the interests of the state. For example, awards of one dollar per year are often made subject to modification only in the event that the recipient becomes totally disabled from engaging in any gainful employment. In such a case the award would appear designed primarily to place the support obligation on the former spouse and not on the state rather than to guarantee the recipient any particular standard of living.
Preserving the Court’s Jurisdiction
On occasion the award of a dollar per year is used to preserve the jurisdiction of the court when the financial circumstances of the parties are expected to undergo changes soon after the dissolution. For example, such an order was used when the husband was unemployed at the time of the dissolution, and his earning capacity could not be accurately determined but it was expected that he would become reemployed in the near future. In one such case the husband was employable but the rest home which had been owned and operated by the parties was ordered sold in connection with the dissolution. Accordingly, it was impossible for the trial court to ascertain his future earning capacity at that time.
Protection Against a Failure to Comply
A nominal award of alimony may also be used to protect against a party’s potential failure to comply with other portions of the orders. For example, in one instance, the nominal award was expressly designated as modifiable to reimburse the wife in the event she had to incur any expenses to pay or defend claims relating to debts the husband was obligated to pay under the judgment. A nominal award of this type may be especially important if it is contemplated or feared that one of the parties may declare bankruptcy after the dissolution and discharge joint debts allocated to him or her.
Award of One Dollar Per Year
Apart from the instances in which the award of one dollar per year is used to preserve the jurisdiction of the court for some specific future evaluation, such an award may represent, at best, a rather imprecise form of disability insurance for the recipient spouse.
As you can see, a dollar per year is a win in some sense to all parties. It protects the state, gives the court continuing jurisdiction, insures the receiving spouse of a possible dramatic change in circumstance, and doesn’t financially harm the paying spouse in any way. Although the paying spouse may be the ultimate loser if an award is modified in the future, this award is the best middle-ground for all parties.
Written by Kyle M. Buonocore
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