New Massachusetts Alimony Law Makes Divorce Less of a Gamble
Until recently, the prospect of alimony in Massachusetts was filled with uncertainty for spouses in a divorce. Courts had significant latitude to order lifetime alimony, even after short marriages. Going to court to overturn alimony in a divorce could be a gamble.
Sparked in part by a Massachusetts man who spent more than $250,000 and entered bankruptcy after a judge refused to reduce his $45,000-a-year alimony payments, a task force of family law attorneys, legislators and others created a proposal for the most dramatic and fundamental changes to the state's divorce and spousal support laws in decades.
On March 1, 2012, the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act took effect. By imposing limits on the amount of time a court may order spousal support, the legislation largely abolishes lifetime alimony. It creates a formula for determining limits to alimony for shorter marriages and provides for several types of spousal maintenance that could benefit spouses after the termination of a relatively short marriage.
General Term Alimony
This type of alimony may be granted to a spouse who is financially dependent on the other. Previously, general term alimony could be ordered for an indefinite length of time. Under the Alimony Reform Act, general term alimony payments will end if the recipient spouse remarries or moves in with a significant other. Payments may also end when the paying spouse retires.
In addition, the Alimony Reform Act provides a formula for the amount of time general term alimony may be ordered, based on the length of the marriage. For example, in the dissolution of a five-year marriage, a court could order alimony for 2.5 years. In the dissolution of a 15-year marriage, a court could order alimony for 10.5 years. Judges may still order indefinite alimony for marriages of 20 years or longer.
Other Types of Alimony
While the new law provides limits on the length of general term alimony - especially for short marriages - it also provides for several other types of alimony that may benefit spouses after short marriages. Judges may order:
- Reimbursement alimony when a spouse married for five or fewer years has contributed to the other spouse's financial resources, such as by helping a spouse through graduate or professional school. The spouse may receive one or more payments as compensation for this financial contribution.
- Transitional alimony when a spouse who has been married for five or fewer years needs financial compensation to transition to a different lifestyle or a new location. These spouses may receive one or more payments during the three-year period after the divorce.
- Rehabilitative alimony when a spouse is financially dependent, but may become economically self-sufficient within a certain period of time. It may be granted for up to five years.
The new alimony law is designed to provide clear guidelines for the duration and type of alimony in divorce. Courts, however, retain discretion to deviate from the guidelines under certain circumstances. If you are involved in divorce proceedings, your alimony agreement may depend significantly on your individual case and the judge hearing it.
An experienced family law attorney will be able to advise you about your situation. At Law Group, P.C., our attorneys practice throughout the state, appearing in all family courts and before every judge. We know the processes and procedures used in each venue, and use that knowledge to provide clients seeking alimony with vigorous and effective advocacy.