The New Massachusetts Alimony Statue: What Does it Do?

E. Steven Coren E. Steven Coren

Massachusetts recently enacted a new comprehensive alimony law which took effect March 1, 2012.  The new law is a substantial change from what was the prevailing “old” alimony law. In some ways the old law was inequitable and could cause seemingly unfair consequences.  Some of the most important changes which are viewed as having brought about a fairer result are as follows:

1. Alimony is no longer “forever”.  Under the old statute judges could not limit the length of time that alimony had to be paid. For instance, the law could require that a person was obligated to pay alimony to a spouse for a period much greater than the length of the marriage. If a couple were married for 12 years, for example, the person having to pay the alimony could expect to have to pay for many years more than the length of the marriage.  The new law requires alimony to be indefinite only for marriages lasting over 20 years. For marriages less than 20 years, the new statute allows judges to require alimony to be paid only for a set length of time as follows:

Length of the marriage:

a. 5 years or less; alimony shall be paid not longer than one-half the number of months of the marriage.

b. 10 years or less, but more than 5 years; alimony shall be paid for not longer than 60 per cent of the number of months of the marriage.

c. 15 years or less, but more than 10 years; alimony shall be paid for not longer than 70 per cent of the number of months of the marriage.

d. 20 years or less, but more than 15 years; alimony shall be paid for not longer than 80 per cent of the number of months of the marriage.

e. More than 20 years; alimony paid indefinitely.

2. Can the length of the alimony period ever be terminated or reduced?  Under the old statute, it was difficult to reduce or eliminate the period of alimony obligation. This caused some unfairness when the payor retired but was still expected in certain circumstances to pay alimony despite a substantial reduction or elimination of earned income. The new alimony law now provides that the term of alimony can be reduced, suspended or eliminated if the payor retires or the recipient is shown to be cohabitating with another person. Cohabitating means living with another person in a romantic relationship where the economics of the persons have become intertwined. Retirement is now also an occasion where the period of alimony may be reduced or eliminated.

3. Can already existing alimony orders be changed under the new statute?  If the old alimony order was decided by a judge or an agreement stated that the alimony agreement was “merged” into the judgment of divorce, the existing alimony order is reviewable under the new statute. “Merged” means that the agreement to pay alimony was stated to have become part of the judge’s order of divorce as if the judge had ordered the alimony in the first place. If , in an agreement, the alimony provisions did not merge, then use of the new statute is barred.

Divorce is one of the most traumatic events that can be experienced. Kerstein Coren & Lichtenstein LLP provide supportive representation. KCL prides itself in being cognizant of the newest developments in Massachusetts divorce law.