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Increasing the Length of Marriage for Alimony Purposes when the Parties have Cohabitated or had an Economic Marital Partnership Prior to Marriage

On June 15, 2016, the Supreme Judicial Court issued a decision on Ellen Duff-Kareores v. Christopher Kareores, in which they addressed the issue of calculating the length of a marriage for purposes of alimony under the alimony reform act. 

On June 15, 2016, the Supreme Judicial Court issued a decision on Ellen Duff-Kareores v. Christopher Kareores, in which they addressed the issue of calculating the length of a marriage for purposes of alimony under the alimony reform act.
This case was very unique, in that it involved parties who had divorced in 2004 after approximately 9 years of marriage, began cohabitating again in 2007, remarried in December 2012 and commenced divorce proceedings just 6 months later. Under the alimony reform act (M.G.L. c. 208 § 48), the Trial Court Judge has the authority to extend the length of the parties' marriage "if there is evidence that the parties' economic marital partnership began during their cohabitation period prior to the marriage." Since the terms "economic marital partnership" and "cohabitation" are not defined in the statute, the SJC weighed in on what factors the Judge should consider.
The Supreme Judicial Court looked at a related provision of the alimony reform act, which discusses the circumstances under which alimony may be reduced, terminated or suspended upon the cohabitation of the recipient spouse, when the spouse paying alimony shows that the recipient has maintained a common household with another person for a continuous period of at least 3 months. M.G.L. c. 208 § 49 (d). This provision further provides that in order to determine whether or not a former spouse is maintaining a "common household", the Court can consider the following factors:
(i) oral or written statements or representations made to third parties regarding the relationship of the persons;(ii) the economic interdependence of the couple or economic dependence of [one] person on the other;(iii) the persons engaging in conduct and collaborative roles in furtherance of their life together;(iv) the benefit in the life of either or both of the persons from their relationship;(v) the community reputation of the persons as a couple; or(vi) other relevant and material factors. G. L. c. 208, § 49 (d) (1)
Using the above definitions, as well as other considerations, the SJC concluded that only where the parties share a common household and are engaged in an economic marital partnership that a judge has discretion to increase the length of a marriage, or to suspend, reduce or terminate a general alimony award, and that the judge must consider the above factors in determining the definition of a "common household", in order to ascertain whether the parties were participating in an economic marital partnership.
The Court further noted that even though the alimony reform act states that alimony cannot be reinstated after the recipient's remarriage (except by the parties' express written agreement), this doesn't apply when the recipient has remarried or began cohabitating with the original, payor spouse.
Last, the Court addressed the question of whether or not the Judge could deviate in the calculation of the length of marriage, above and beyond consideration of the above factors (for example, could the Judge determine on his own that the length of the marriage for alimony purposes would be longer than the amount of time that the parties were actually married or cohabitating and engaged in an economic marital partnership?) The SJC determined that no, the alimony reform act does not provide a Judge with discretion in calculating the length of a marriage other than as outlined above. The Judge can, however, deviate from the amount and duration of alimony payments, under M.G.L. c 208 § 53 (e).
First, even if you don't remarry your ex-spouse, this holding would apply to any situation where the parties cohabitated and were engaged in an economic marital partnership prior to marriage, and alimony is at issue. It doesn't mean that a Judge must extend the length of your marriage when there is evidence of cohabitation and an economic marital partnership; this is ultimately in the Judge's discretion. However, the Judge must consider the definitions of cohabitation when making a determination of whether or not it actually occurred.
Second, this may be another incentive to consider a premarital (prenuptial) agreement. When negotiating the terms of a premarital agreement, the parties can discuss the factors that will be considered in setting the length of their marriage in the event of a divorce. While this language in and of itself won't be controlling at the time of divorce (the court has to consider other factors when determining the validity of a premarital agreement), it can certainly assist the parties in planning their financial futures, and can show their intent. To discuss your alimony questions or concerns, contact Attorney Leila J. Wons for an initial consultation.

(c)2016 by Law Office of Leila J. Wons, P.C. The information you obtain at this site 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. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established. In accordance with rules established by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, this blog must be labeled "advertising." 

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