August 2011

Recently, the Massachusetts legislature passed the long awaited Alimony Reform Bill which is now awaiting signature by Governor Patrick.  Once Governor Patrick signs the bill into law, it will have significant impact on currently pending divorce cases and outstanding alimony orders in specific circumstances. Divorced couples will want to pull out their agreements with one question in mind – How does this law affect my alimony payment?   The bill  outlines the duration of alimony awards, prohibits the use of a second spouse’s income or assets in assessing an alimony award, sets a presumption that alimony will terminate upon attaining full retirement age, terminates alimony upon remarriage and certain cohabitation and considers child support in the determination of the amount of alimony.  The length of a couple’s marriage will now determine the length of time alimony is paid.  For marriages lasting more than twenty years, the courts may still have the ability to issue lifetime alimony awards but the courts are no longer required to issue lifetime alimony awards.

What does this mean to people who are not yet divorced?

For the first time in Massachusetts, at the time of the divorce a judge may put an end date on the length of time alimony will be paid.   This will provide more certainty to families and avoid returning to court years later to modify alimony awards.

 When Does Alimony End?

The new law considers the duration of marriage to be from the date the individuals married until the date a spouse filed for divorce or separate support.  Accordingly, the date when the divorce complaint is filed now has more significance. This durational requirement could be increased if there is evidence that the couple lived together and had an economic partnership prior to the marriage.

The durational limits for alimony based on the duration of the marriage are now as follows:

  • five years or less, alimony payments will not last more than one-half of the number of months of the marriage;
  • ten years or less, but more than five years, alimony payments will not last more than sixty percent of the number of months of the marriage;
  • fifteen years or less, but more than ten years, alimony payments will not last more than seventy percent of the number of months of the marriage;
  • twenty years or less, but more than fifteen years, alimony payments will not last more than eighty percent of the number of months of the marriage.

While the court may still issue lifetime alimony awards for marriages lasting more than twenty years, these limits put an end to alimony awards which last longer than short or medium length marriages.

The new law also inserts additional provisions to provide for the termination or suspension of alimony payments.  Alimony may now be suspended, reduced or terminated when an alimony recipient lives with another individual for at least three months.  Furthermore, under most circumstances, alimony will terminate upon a payor’s attaining full retirement age.

What is Rehabilitative Alimony?

Under the new alimony reform bill, rehabilitative alimony seeks to support a spouse who is expected to become self-sufficient within a certain period of time.  Rehabilitative alimony ends upon the remarriage of the recipient, the occurrence of a specific event, the death of either spouse and a term of less than five years.

What is Reimbursement Alimony?

With the passage of the alimony reform act, a court may now award “reimbursement alimony.”  Essentially, this awards certain payments to the receiving spouse which cannot be modified.  The purpose of a reimbursement alimony award is to compensate a spouse for economic and non-economic contributions to the paying spouse, such as helping the paying spouse to complete an education or job training.

What is Transitional Alimony?

Transitional alimony may be awarded to a spouse in a short-term marriage to enable the spouse to complete an education or job training.  Its payment is limited to three years and it cannot be modified or extended.

How will the court determine how much alimony to award?

The court will consider the following: the length of the marriage, age and health of the spouses; both spouses’ income; employment and employability, including employability through reasonable diligence and additional training, if necessary; economic and non-economic contribution to the marriage; marital lifestyle; ability of each party to maintain the marital lifestyle; lost economic opportunity as a result of the marriage; and any other factors the court deems relevant and material.

In issuing an alimony order, the court should not exceed the recipients need or 30 to 35% of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes.

How long will alimony last?

The length of an alimony award depends upon the length of the marriage.  Generally, the length of marriage would be determined from the date of marriage until the date a complaint for divorce or separate support is filed.  For example, if the marriage lasted more than five years but less than ten, the alimony duration will be no more than sixty percent of the number of months of the marriage.

If I am already divorced, could the New Alimony Reform law be used to change or terminate my existing alimony payments?

Yes, under certain circumstances, a complaint for modification may be filed with the court to modify an alimony award in marriages which lasted twenty years or less and an individual’s alimony payments have already exceeded the alimony durational limits.  The length of the marriage will determine the date a person would be entitled to file a complaint for modification based on the new alimony law.

A person paying alimony may be entitled to seek modification of an alimony award if he or she has exceeded the durational limits contained in the new bill.  The durational limits only apply to marriages which lasted twenty years or less.  For example, if an individual has been paying alimony for ten years and the marriage only lasted five years, the payor individual would be entitled to seek an order terminating the alimony obligation based on this new law.  If an individual seeks to modify the alimony based on the new law, it sets the date upon when a modification action may be filed which is directly related to the duration of the marriage.  The bill does not change agreements where the parties agreed that alimony could not be modified or changed.

Our family law and alimony attorneys represent clients throughout Massachusetts and in every county of Massachusetts including Norfolk County, Suffolk County, Worcester County, Bristol County, Middlesex County, Plymouth County, Hamden County, Essex County and Barnstable County. Our family law lawyers represent clients in Massachusetts’ largest communities including the cities of Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Lowell, Cambridge, Brockton, New Bedford, Fall River, Lynn, and Quincy.

Our law offices are located in Franklin and Medfield and serve the Boston Metro West region and the neighboring towns of Bellingham, Milford, Upton, Hopedale, Holliston, Medway, Millis, Medfield, Norwood, Walpole, Sharon, Foxborough, Wrentham, Easton, Mansfield, North Attleboro, Norton, Plainville, Raynham, Taunton, Attleboro, Seekonk, Rehoboth, Uxbridge, Whitinsville, and Worcester.

If you would like to learn more about how the Alimony Reform Bill could affect you and your alimony payment whether you pay or receive, contact Michelle Raymond, Michael Doherty, or Steven Weil.