On September 26, 2011, Governor Patrick signed the long-awaited alimony bill into law, potentially ending many lifetime alimony awards across the state. The previous Massachusetts law required the court to consider a number of factors when determining alimony, but it did not provide guidelines for judges to determine the length of the alimony award, often leaving many ex-spouses paying alimony indefinitely. However, that has now changed and many ex-spouses are breathing a sigh of relief.
Categories and Duration of Alimony
There are now four categories of alimony that a judge can consider: general term alimony, rehabilitative alimony, reimbursement alimony, and transitional alimony.
When determining which category of alimony should be awarded, the amount of the alimony, and the duration of the alimony, the court must consider:
- The length of the marriage;
- Age of the parties;
- Health of the parties;
- Income, employment, and employability of both parties, including employability through reasonable diligence and additional training;
- Economic and non-economic contribution of both parties to the marriage;
- Marital lifestyle;
- Ability of each party to maintain the marital lifestyle;
- Lost economic opportunity as a result of the marriage;
- And other such factors as the court considers relevant and material.
General Term Alimony
General term alimony, also known as spousal support, is meant to compensate one spouse who had to financially depend on the other spouse during the marriage. The court will determine the duration of alimony according to the length of the marriage. The formula for determining general term alimony is:
- For short term marriages up to 5 years: the maximum allowable duration of the award is 50% of the number of years married.
- For marriages more than 5 years but less than 10 years: the duration of the award is 60% of the number of years married.
- For marriages more than 10 years but less than 15 years: the duration of the award is 70% of the numbers of years married.
- For marriages more than 15 years but less than 20 years: the duration of the award is 80% of the number of years married.
- For marriages more than 20 years: the award can be indefinite.
The conduct of the recipient spouse can also trigger the termination of the payments. For example, if the recipient spouse lives with another person romantically for more than three consecutive months, then the alimony can be suspended. Also, if the recipient spouse remarries, then the alimony can be terminated, though this was the case prior to the new law. In addition, if either spouse dies or the payor spouse reaches retirement age, then the obligation to pay will terminate.
The second category of alimony is rehabilitative alimony. This type of alimony is meant to encourage the spouse receiving alimony to return to the workplace and can be used for education or job training purposes. Rehabilitative alimony is a fixed sum to be paid in one or separate payments for no more than five years. It will terminate upon the remarriage of the recipient spouse, the occurrence of the specific event (ie: work), or the death of either spouse.
The third type of alimony, reimbursement alimony, can be awarded in situations where one spouse financially contributed to the training, education, or career development of another spouse. It is meant to compensate the contributing spouse for their contribution. Reimbursement alimony may be awarded after short term marriages and is a fixed amount, paid in one or separate payments, for a set time. Reimbursement alimony cannot be modified, regardless of changed circumstances, and it can only terminate upon the death of the recipient or the date set by the court.
Transitional alimony applies in situations where rehabilitative or reimbursement alimony is not appropriate but the circumstances still justify the need for financial support. This type of alimony is for a limited duration and has a payment period of up to three years. It can only be terminated upon the death of the recipient.
Guidelines on Amount of Alimony
There are several other guidelines that discuss how the court should determine the amount of the alimony awarded, some of which include:
- An award for general, rehabilitative, and transitional alimony should not exceed 30-35% of the difference between the gross incomes of the parties.
- When issuing an order for alimony, the court should exclude:
- Capital gains income and dividend and interest income derived from assets divided between the parties;
- Gross income the court has considered for child support; and
- The income and assets of the payor’s spouse upon remarriage.
- Income from a second job or overtime work if the party works more than a single full-time equivalent position and the second job or overtime began after the initial order.
Modification of Alimony Awards
Payor spouses who have current alimony obligations can request a modification of their current alimony payments according to the following guidelines:
- Payors married less than 5 years may file a modification action on or after March 1, 2013;
- Payors married more than 5 but less than 10 years may file a modification action on or after March 1, 2014;
- Payors married more than 10 years but less than 15 years may file a modification action on or after March 1, 2015; and
- Payors married more than 15 years but less than 20 years may file a modification action on or before March 1, 2015.
The new alimony law sets forth clear guidelines for courts to apply when determining alimony awards, allowing attorneys and their clients to better understand how the amount is calculated and the duration determined. The law attempts, and will hopefully succeed at, finding a balance for both parties: the recipient spouse in need of support and the spouse paying the support.