Even after reform, MA alimony law requires further clarification

Posted by Geoffrey E. SpoffordDec 13, 20130 Comments

Massachusetts alimony law leaves room for debate about key provisions, such as when benefits cease and how divorces finished before the reform are affected.

As most people in Worcester know, in 2012, Massachusetts enacted significant changes to its prior alimony law. The new law limits payments for shorter-term marriages, halts spousal support at retirement age and terminates payments if the disadvantaged spouse lives with a new partner for over 3 months.

Proponents have labeled these changes as progressive models for reform elsewhere, according to the Boston Globe. Still, recent events reveal that several aspects of the new law remain open to interpretation. Securing fair settlement terms may still be difficult for spouses going through divorces and spouses who divorced before the legal changes were made.

Selective enforcement

There are a few aspects of the new law that may not be enforced consistently in every divorce, according to the Boston Globe. The termination of alimony upon the supporting spouse's retirement is one. The law specifically gives judges the right to extend alimony obligations past retirement age.

Judges who do so are required to show good cause in writing. However, some critics contend that this does not always happen. One alimony payer reported that a judge ordered him to pay almost $4,000 a month in alimony after the age of 65 without providing written justification.

Another point of contention is the termination of alimony payments if the disadvantaged spouse lives with another partner for at least three months. Some judges have interpreted this part of the law to apply only to disadvantaged spouses who started cohabiting before the law was passed. Others believe the law was intended to apply in all cases of cohabitation.

Finally, there is disagreement over whether the law applies to spouses who completed the divorce process before the law passed. The Boston Globe reported that earlier this month, the state Supreme Court heard arguments for three cases involving the interpretation of pre-existing alimony arrangements under the new law. The cases raise the following questions:

  • Can a spouse stop making alimony payments at retirement age if the alimony arrangement was created before the new law was enacted?
  • Can a supporting spouse recoup post-retirement alimony payments that have already been made?
  • Should each spouse's assets be considered when the court evaluates whether to extend alimony payments beyond retirement?

The final decisions in all three cases could set important precedents while helping judges, attorneys and people going through divorces better understand the law.

Navigating alimony arrangements

These issues underscore why seeking legal representation is important for divorcing spouses. Spouses who are already separated and have concerns about their present arrangements can also benefit from professional guidance. An attorney can provide advice based on the new law as well as recent court decisions. This can help ex-spouses, whether they are alimony payers or recipients, understand their rights and ensure those rights are protected.

Keywords: alimony, spousal support, maintenance, divorce