Different states employ different terms for support paid by one spouse to an ex following a divorce. Traditionally, alimony has been used to describe what some states, including Massachusetts, refer to as spousal support or maintenance. Just as the name has changed, so have conditions under which spouses are ordered to pay or qualified to receive alimony.
General term alimony is support paid when one spouse is financially dependent upon another. This economic reliance may be the result of a health issue or lack of employability, including the absence of an education or training to obtain a self-sustaining job. In some cases, one spouse becomes dependent by sacrificing a career to raise children or support the other spouse's goals.
The length of time dependent-spouse alimony is paid depends upon the numbers of months a couple was married.
For Massachusetts marriages lasting five years or less, an ex-spouse may receive alimony up to 50 percent of the months invested in the marriage. The percentage of months increases to 60 percent for marriages lasting between five and 10 years, 70 percent for longer unions up to 15 years and 80 percent for marriages enduring 15 to 20 years. The duration of alimony for marriages lasting 20 years or longer may be ordered for an indefinite period.
Alimony payments automatically stop if the recipient spouse enters a cohabitation relationship for more than three months or remarries. The death of either spouse also nullifies support. Payer spouses who reach "full retirement age" are no longer required to supplement an ex's income.
The terms of alimony can be modified, unless a written agreement states support terms may not be altered, when an ex-spouse convinces a court a substantial change of circumstances has taken place. Modification approvals can change the duration of alimony or the amount paid. An attorney can advise you on what qualifies as good reasons for alimony modification.
Source: Mass Legal Help, "How does “general term” alimony work?" accessed Jan. 28, 2015