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What is Alimony Reform All About?

On September 26, 2011, Governor Deval Patrick signed an act reforming alimony in the Commonwealth, the "Alimony Reform Act of 2011". This alimony reform has significant repercussions on currently existing alimony orders, as well as future alimony judgments, and will become effective March 1, 2012. 

On September 26, 2011, Governor Deval Patrick signed an act reforming alimony in the Commonwealth, the "Alimony Reform Act of 2011". This alimony reform has significant repercussions on currently existing alimony orders, as well as future alimony judgments, and will become effective March 1, 2012.

The following is a breakdown of the new alimony laws and what they mean. However, this is not a complete outline of the Alimony Reform Act! If you have a currently existing alimony order or are interested in learning more about how alimony may or may not apply to your particular situation, please schedule an appointment with Attorney Wons.

ALIMONY AND PROPERTY
In determining an equitable distribution of property between parties in a divorce action, the court shall also consider the alimony order, if any, that is established.

TYPES OF ALIMONY
There are 4 types of alimony that can be ordered:

  • General Term Alimony (what most people think of when we speak about alimony, i.e. periodic payments for a set amount of time);
  • Rehabilitative Alimony (periodic alimony payments of not more than 5 years for a spouse who is expected to become economically self-sufficient by a set time, i.e. when they finish school or training);
  • Reimbursement Alimony (periodic or lump-sum alimony payments in a marriage of 5 years or less meant to compensate a spouse for their contribution to the other spouse's financial resources, i.e. payments made to a spouse for taking care of the children and the home while the payor spouse earned his or her degree); and
  • Transitional Alimony (periodic or lump-sum alimony payments lasting no more than 3 years in a marriage of 5 years or less to enable the recipient spouse to transition into an adjusted lifestyle, i.e. to enable a spouse to find suitable housing once the marital home is sold).


DURATION OF ALIMONY
Rather than leave the duration of alimony to the sole discretion of the courts, judges now have to follow general guidelines when issuing General Term Alimony:

  • For marriages of 5 years or less, alimony cannot last for longer than 50% of the number of months the parties were married (2.5 years max, or 30 months);
  • For marriages of 10 years or less, alimony cannot last for longer than 60% of the number of months the parties were married (6 years max, or 72 months);
  • For marriages of 15 years or less, alimony cannot last for longer than 70% of the number of months the parties were married (10.5 years max or 126 moths);
  • For marriages of 20 years or less, alimony cannot last for longer than 80% of the number of months the parties were married (16 years max or 192 months);

For marriages of over 20 years, the court still has the discretion to determine how long alimony payments will last. However, in all instances alimony must terminate upon the paying spouse's attainment of the full retirement age (when he or she is eligible for the old-age retirement benefit under the US Old-Age, Disability, and Survivors Insurance Act.)

MODIFICATIONS OF ALIMONY JUDGMENTS
Notwithstanding the above guidelines, parties may seek modifications of their alimony orders at any time if a material change in circumstance occurs. In addition, the court may order that alimony continue after retirement age for "good cause shown". It will be interesting to see what the courts determine constitutes said "good cause", though I would think it applies to situations where one spouse receives substantially more assets that the recipient spouse from their respective pensions, social security or retirement accounts.

Although the new law becomes effective March 1, 2012, parties seeking modifications of existing alimony orders because the terms of their judgments exceed those set forth herein, cannot do so right away. Instead, they must follow these timelines:

  • For marriages of 5 years or less, the parties may file on or after March 1, 2013;
  • For marriages of 10 years or less, the parties may file on or after March 1, 2014;
  • For marriages of 15 years or less, the parties may file on or after March 1, 2015;
  • For marriages of 20 years or less, the parties may file on or after September 1, 2015.
  • Regardless of these time limits, anyone reaching full retirement age on or before March 1, 2015 may file their Complaint for Modification on or after March 1, 2013.


ALIMONY AND CHILD SUPPORT
While a party can receive alimony at the same time as he or she is receiving child support, there are now limits for how long these two can last: The combined duration of alimony and child support cannot exceed the longer of 1) the length of an alimony order as set out above or 2) rehabilitative alimony that commences when child support terminates.

For example, if a couple with a 5 year-old child gets divorced, child support will likely be issued and continue for another 17 years (until the child graduates from college). If this couple had been married for 5 years or less, alimony can only last for a maximum of 2.5 years or however long a court would deem appropriate for the recipient spouse to become rehabilitated.

(c) 2014 The Law Office of Leila J. Wons. The information contained herein is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship and does not constitute legal advice.
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