It is no secret that inflation is driving the cost of living higher and higher in the United States. Not only are things becoming much more expensive, but prices are also rising at a faster rate than most of us can remember. Not too long ago, the inflation rate in the United States was just 1.4%. In 2022, this number ballooned to over 9%. It is not just your imagination – and rising interest rates are only making the situation worse.
So, what happens if inflation continues in this manner for the foreseeable future? What happens if the Federal Reserve falls short of its promise to fight inflation? What if the interest rate hikes are not enough to push this number back down to the expressed goal of sub-2%? If inflation continues to be a major issue for the next few decades, divorcing spouses can expect to encounter serious financial issues. Keep in mind that spouses already face serious financial issues after divorce – especially women.
The real question is simple: Should courts factor in the rate of inflation when calculating things like spousal support and child support? Do some courts already do this?
Spousal Support is Usually too Short to Be Affected by Inflation
The growing trend across the United States is to make spousal support much shorter in duration than we have seen in past decades. This is especially true for marriages that last only a few years. The average divorce in the United States occurs just eight years into marriage. Data from 2005 also suggests that one in five marriages do not last longer than five years. Generally speaking, alimony is not awarded for marriages that last only a handful of years. Even if alimony is awarded for these shorter marriages, the rule of thumb is that spouses should only receive alimony for half the duration of the marriage.
This means that if the average divorce occurs eight years into marriage, alimony will typically only last four years – if the receiving spouse is lucky. Prices can certainly inflate within a four-year period, but the change is usually not enough to warrant additional calculations during a divorce. That being said, we have certainly seen situations in the past where prices can fluctuate massively within just a few days – or even hours. The Weimar Republic of Germany is a clear example of this – but it would have to get seriously bad in the United States to warrant any kind of adjustment to the normal alimony calculation process.
If inflation is a major concern for spouses, they can always turn to COLA clauses. Otherwise known as a Cost of Living Adjustment clause, these legal tools let spouses increase their support amounts if inflation becomes much worse in the future. This could be a solid choice for many spouses today who are facing the prospect of receiving support for many decades – perhaps after a long marriage or while raising children who were very young at the time of the divorce. As the cost of living crisis worsens in the United States, COLA clauses could become much more popular.