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Massachusetts Alimony Video (Prior to Alimony Reform Act of 2011)

An Act Reforming Alimony in the Commonwealth
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Understanding Massachusetts Alimony Reform

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On March 1, 2012, Massachusetts new alimony reform law titled An Act Reforming Alimony in the Commonwealth (herein referred to as Alimony Reform Act of 2011) will take effect bringing sweeping changes to existing spousal support and alimony laws. Lets take a closer look at these changes and its impact in alimony modifications and divorce.

Reforming Alimony in Massachusetts

For the first time, the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 sets specific guidelines on the levels and duration of MA alimony awards. Lets take a closer look at these changes.

Duration Limits on General Term Alimony

If the length of marriage is less than or equal to 5 years: General term alimony duration shall not be greater than 50% of the number of months of the marriage.

If the length of marriage is less than or equal to 10 years but greater than 5 years: General term alimony duration shall not be greater than 60% of the number of months of the marriage.

If the length of marriage is less than or equal to 15 years but greater than 10 years: General term alimony duration shall not be greater than 70% of the number of months of the marriage.

If the length of marriage is less than or equal to 20 years but greater than 15 years: General term alimony duration shall not be greater than 80% of the number of months of the marriage.

If the length of marriage greater than 20 years: The court has discretion to make an alimony award for an indefinite length of time.

A court has discretion to increase the length of the marriage if there is evidence that the parties' economic partnership began during their cohabitation period prior to marriage.

It is important to note that the Court may deviate from the general alimony guidelines in certain circumstances.

Grounds for deviation of the alimony amount and duration include:
  • advance age;
  • chronic illness or unusual health circumstances of either party;
  • tax considerations applicable to the parties;
  • whether the payor spouse is providing health insurance and the cost of the health insurance for the recipient spouse;
  • whether the payor spouse has been ordered to secure life insurance for the benefit of the recipient spouse and the cost of such insurance;
  • sources and amounts of unearned income, including capital gains, interest and dividends, annuity, and investments income from assets that were not allocated in the parties divorce.
  • significant premarital cohabitation that included economic partnership or marital separation of significant duration, each of which the court may consider in determining the length of the marriage;
  • a party's inability to provide for that party's own support by reason of physical or mental abuse by the payor;
  • a party's inability to provide for that party's own support by reason of the party's deficiency of property, maintenance, or employment opportunity; and
  • upon written findings, any other factor that the court deems relevant and material.

Amount of Alimony Awards

Alimony awards in Massachusetts generally should not exceed the recipient’s need or 30% to 35% of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes established at the time of the order being issued. Income shall be defined as set forth in the Massachusetts child support guidelines.

Income Attribution

The court may attribute income to a party who is unemployed or underemployed depending on the circumstances of the case.

What will the Court consider allowable alimony income exclusions?
When the court issues an order for alimony in Massachusetts, they shall exclude from its income calculation the following:

  • capital gains, dividend, and interest income derived from assets equitably divided between the parties under M.G.L. Chapter 208 Section 34; and
  • the gross income which the court has already considered for setting a child support order.

What is the interplay between Alimony and Child Support in MA?

If the court orders alimony to run concurrent with or subsequent to a child support order, the combined duration and child support shall not exceed the longer of:

  • The alimony or child support duration available at the time of divorce; or
  • Rehabilitative alimony beginning upon the termination of child support.

Marital Property Division in a Divorce

In all contested divorce matters, the Court considers the following factors in fixing the nature and value of property if any to be assigned:

  • length of the marriage;
  • age of the parties;
  • health of the parties;
  • income;
  • employment; and employability of the parties through reasonable diligence and additional training, if necessary;
  • economic and non-economic contribution of both parties to the marriage;
  • martial lifestyle;
  • ability of each party to maintain the marital lifestyle;
  • lost economic opportunity as a result of the marriage; and
  • other factors as the court considers relevant and material.

Types of Alimony Awarded

Under the alimony reform act of 2011, the Court will consider the following factors in determining the appropriate type of alimony to award in a divorce in Massachusetts. There are 4 types of alimony that the court can order.

  • length of the marriage;
  • age of the parties;
  • health of the parties;
  • income;
  • employment; and employability of the parties through reasonable diligence and additional training, if necessary;
  • economic and non-economic contribution of both parties to the marriage;
  • martial lifestyle;
  • ability of each party to maintain the marital lifestyle;
  • lost economic opportunity as a result of the marriage; and
  • other factors as the court considers relevant and material.

General Term Alimony is the periodic payment of support to a recipient spouse who is economically dependent.

General term alimony shall terminate upon the remarriage of the recipient or the death of either spouse.

If the length of the marriage is 20 years or less, general term alimony shall terminate no later than the date certain under the durational limits set forth in the alimony reform act of 2011.


For those with existing alimony awards, the new alimony reform act designates those awards as general term alimony.

Cohabitation

The Court shall suspend, reduce, or terminate the recipient spouses general term alimony as a result of the cohabitation if the recipient spouse has maintained a common household with another person for a continuous period of at least 3 months.

What factors will the court consider in determining whether the recipient is maintaining a common household?

The court will consider the following factors in determining cohabitation:

  • oral or written statements or representations made to third parties regarding the relationship of the persons;
  • the economic interdependence of the couple or economic dependence of one person on the other;
  • the person engaging in conduct and collaborative roles in furtherance of their life together
  • the benefit in the life of either or both of the persons from their relationship;
  • the community reputation of the persons as a couple; or
  • other relevant and material factors.

If a recipient of alimony cohabitates, the court may suspend, reduce, or terminate the current general term alimony award. The court can reinstate the original alimony award if cohabitation terminates (or ends).

Rehabilitative Alimony is the periodic payment of support to the recipient spouse who is expected to become economically self sufficient by a specific period or a predicted period of time not to exceed 5 years. This allows the recipient time to find a job or establish new employment; completion of job training; or the payor may pay a certain sum pursuant to a judgement, to name a few.

This type of alimony award shall terminate upon the remarriage of the recipient, the death of either spouse, or the occurrence of a specific event in the future.

Rehabilitative alimony may be extended on a complaint for modification upon a showing of compelling circumstances.

Transition Alimony is the periodic or one-time payment of support to a recipient spouse after a marriage of not more than 5 years to transition the recipient spouse to an adjusted lifestyle or location as a result of the divorce.

This type of alimony terminates upon death or a date certain that is not longer than 3 years from the date of the parties' divorce.

The court shall not modify or extend transitional alimony or replace the alimony award with another form of alimony.

Reimbursement Alimony is the periodic or one-time payment of support to a recipient spouse after a marriage of not more than 5 years. If periodic payments are made, the payments will terminate or end upon death or a date certain. Income guidelines shall not apply to this type of alimony.

The periodic or one-time payment is designed to compensate the recipient spouse for economic or non-economic contributions toward the financial resources of the payor spouse. Reimbursement alimony can permit a party to complete an educational or job training.

The parties may not seek to modify the judgment of reimbursement alimony.

Alimony Security

To protect the alimony recipient in the event of the payor's death during the alimony term, the court may require the payor spouse to provide life insurance or another form of reasonable security to meet his/her existing alimony obligation.

Alimony Modification

If there has been a change in circumstances that warrant an alimony modification, the general term alimony award may be modified in either the amount or the duration. The modification may be permanent, indefinite, or for a finite period of time.

Unlike general term alimony, transition and reimbursement alimony is not modifiable.

Timeline for Modification of an Existing Alimony Award

Under the new alimony reform act of 2011, existing alimony awards shall be deemed general term alimony. If the existing alimony award duration exceeds the durational limits established in Chapter 208, section 49, the alimony award is modifiable and you can file a complaint for modification with the court without having to show any additional material change in circumstance. The following time limits must be met in order to file a complaint for modification.

  • If you were married 5 years or less, you can file a complaint for modification on or after March 1, 2013.
  • If you were married 10 years or less, but more than 5 years, you can file a complaint for modification on or after March 1, 2014.
  • If you were married 15 years or less, but more than 10 years, you can file a complaint for modification on or after March 1, 2015.
  • If you were married 20 years or less, but more than 15 years, you can file a complaint for modification on or after Sept 1, 2015.

What is not considered grounds for a modification of alimony?

If the payor finds a second job, part time, or overtime work after the initial alimony order, the extra income shall be presumed immaterial in a subsequent alimony modification brought by the former spouse.

A payor's spouses income and assets shall not be considered in an alimony modification brought by the former spouse.

How soon can an alimony order terminate or end?

Once the payor attains full retirement age, general term alimony shall terminate unless the court sets a different alimony termination date for good cause shown and the court must enter written findings supporting the reasons for the deviation. The written findings must be supported by clear and convincing evidence.

Can an alimony duration be extended?

The court may provide the recipient with an extension of an existing alimony order so long as the court provides written findings of a material change of circumstance that occurred after entry of the alimony judgment.

How Trusts Factor into Alimony Awards and the Division of Marital Property in Massachusetts

If the trial judge determines that the future acquisition of assets from a Trust is fairly certain and the valuation of those assets are possible, the assets may be considered part of the marital estate under G.L. c. 208, § 34. If the husband or wife's interest in a specific Trust is considered too remote or speculative, it is unlikely that the court will include the trust as part of the marital estate. The judge can however consider the trust as an opportunity for either the husband or wife to acquire future capital assets and income and consider it along with other factors in fashioning an alimony award if one is warranted.

The role of the marital estate in alimony awards

Judges have broad discretion in dividing the marital estate in a divorce. In addition to making an alimony award if warranted, judges can award to either husband or the wife all or any part of the estate under G.L. c. 208, § 34. The "estate" is generally defined as all assets including but not limited to, the marital home, vacation homes, furniture, cars, boats, jewelry, artwork, collections, savings bonds, retirement accounts, pensions, annuities, cash, inherited interest in trusts, family trusts, generation skipping trusts, discretionary trusts, and revocable trusts, gifted stocks, gifted bonds, other gifted assets, retirement benefits of all types, stock options (vested or non vested), pension, profit-sharing, annuity, deferred compensation and insurance, to name a few. The estate essentially includes all property to which a party holds title, however acquired.

Some states separate gifted or inherited assets from a marital estate. Massachusetts, however, includes gifted or inherited assets. The allocation or division of the marital estate is within the discretion of the court after they have considered all mandatory factors under G.L. c. 208, § 34.

Can a judge order me to pay both alimony and child support in Massachusetts?

It all depends on your family income and a number of other factors the judge will consider in determining whether both awards are warranted. If your family income is under $250,000/yr, the judge is likely to order only child support as the income used in determining the child support order is excluded from being considered in an alimony order.

If it is determined that an alimony award is warranted based on the facts of the case, the judge will use the income above $250,000/yr as a source for an alimony award if there are children involved. You can expect an award of between 30% to 35% of the difference in gross income between the two parties that has not been used to determine the child support award.

There are provisions in the new alimony reform act that may allow an attorney to make a tax argument case for the award of both alimony and child support even when the combined family income is below $250,000/yr. You will likely need the testimony of an expert witness familiar with tax laws to make this type of arguement.

What factors must the judge consider in dividing marital property and making an award of alimony in a Massachusetts divorce?

The judge must consider all factors described in the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011 in making an equitable distribution of property and award of alimony in a MA divorce.


Alimony FAQs

The following FAQs provide a great deal of insights into alimony case law in Massachusetts.

MA Alimony FAQs
Alimony in MA FAQs

Boston alimony attorney Robyn A. Briatico & her network of affiliated MA alimony lawyers invite you to contact them at 617-387-6800 or complete and submit the alimony contact form to schedule your free 20 minute phone consult. When you send your message, it will shortly appear on Robyn A. Briatico's iPhone. She will promptly return your call to set up an appointment as soon as she is available to do so.

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