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Massachusetts Divorce Law Monitor What you never thought you'd need to know about divorce

One Step Closer To Alimony Reform?

Posted in Alimony and Child Custody

Hi there,

It appears we may be one step closer to alimony reform.  The task force on alimony reform filed its findings in mid-March, and the long, slow legislative process of the Commonwealth will now have an excellent document to work from.

The new template gives a lot of guidance for situations where there are no dependent children, while still allowing for judicial discretion (and good advocacy) in certain circumstances.

I am not sure how the task force derived the time frames for the length of alimony terms, but they are as follows.  If the marital partnership (which can mean more than the time of the marriage) is up to:

  • 5 years, than the maximum percentage of time alimony can be ordered paid is 50% (or 2.5 years)
  • more than 5 and up to 10 years, 60%
  • more than 10 and up to 15 years, 70%
  • more than fifteen and up to 20 years 80%

After a term of 20 years, the alimony can become “indefinite”. I think this is problematic as the marriage becomes longer.  What really is the difference in earning capacity of a person who has been out of the workforce 16 years and one who has been out 20 years? It can result in arbitrary rulings.

The judges do have discretion, as with the child support guidelines, but in practice (just ask anyone who has dealt with an attorney from the Department of Revenue) “the guidelines are the guidelines” and they are very hard to get past.

The alimony guidelines are not yet law, they are far from it.  However, some judges are beginning to use them and to tell practitioners to expect them to rule following the task force’s recommendations.

Best,

Nancy

  • TPR

    What are the findings with respect to divorces where there are dependent children for which the father is paying child support? Wouldn’t that be the majority of cases?

  • Nancy

    Hi there -
    Yes, where there are dependent children and they live with mom or with the other father, there is generally child support, and I think the majority of the cases still have mother with primary physical care. Although, if you consider cases of shared custody as well, I believe the ratio is closer.
    Best,
    Nancy

  • TPR

    I guess my confusion is that the house version provided for a carve out for minor children as an exception to the rules of ending alimony for shorter term marriages – on the 16th birthday of the youngest child. Is that likely to be what gets worked out here in the committee? It’s odd that they haven’t dealt with that issue, as it would apply to a huge number of cases. I had read the house version as essentially allowing alimony until the 16th birthday regardless of the existence of child support? Did I have that right?

  • jennifer

    What about the long term marriage where a wife leaves her husband for someone else then doesn’t marry? It leaves the ex husband with life long alimony and the wife at double her previous income.

  • Nancy

    Hi Jennifer,
    This could indeed result in the situation you describe above. In fact I have seen it happen. The Courts have viewed this that since the new boyfriend has no legal obligation to support his paramour the support obligation belongs with her former husband. Put like that it does read in a rather Victorian, paternalistic manner.
    It will be very interesting to see how alimony reform works out.
    Best,
    Nancy
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