As Massachusetts considers refining the law on alimony, the public commentary is huge. It has made me think through exactly what I think about the current law and the proposed changes. I have initially addressed this in the blog, as I recognize that making alimony payments (or not making them) is one of the truly hard and hot button issues in divorce. There are both payers and payees who have been deeply hurt and aggrieved by the system. Most of these individuals may well find this post unpalatable. As I think about that, I am not sure anyone finds having to pay alimony a good thing. It is however, often a necessary evil, and as an advocate if I represent the spouse who is paying, I try to get the amount and time frame as minimal as possible. Alternatively, when I am the advocate for the recipient, I try to get the amount and time frame as broad as possible. That is the joy of being a litigator – you get to argue both sides of every question, sometimes on the same day.
Joking aside, I firmly believe that setting parameters for judges to follow and then allowing them discretion is the fairest way to go. Does this mean all will be treated fairly? Of course not! The risks of litigation, bad lawyering, bad judging, or just plain bad luck, are why I consistently recommend that litigants settle out of court.
However, a rigid formulaic approach to alimony would result in far more examples of unfairness than the suggested reform, as approved by the Boston Bar Association.
The suggested reform does allow Judges the authority to set a time frame for the duration of alimony, which had not previously been the case. If passed, this should have a salutary effect, both on the results of litigation and on the terms in agreements.