It is not very often that a lawyer realizes significant change in their field of expertise.  Criminal Attorneys will not wake up one day and read that arson is no longer a crime; estate planning attorneys will never have to worry about Wills no longer being allowed in the Courts; and its unlikely that collection attorneys will ever have to worry that the Courts will no longer honor loan agreements.

However, there has been one ground-altering change in the law that has been on the horizon for the last few years.  Alimony, the legal obligation of one spouse to financially provide for the other spouse after a divorce, has been under attack in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for years.  While practitioners agreed that Alimony had a place in the law, one of the major complaints of Alimony in Massachusetts was that once a Court ordered alimony, it could not be ended unless by death or remarriage.  Courts were not able to order an end-date to alimony.

This relatively draconian process was finally rectified by the Commonwealth in September 2011 when Governor Duval Patrick finally signed into law the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011.  This law greatly alters the landscape of Alimony Law in the Commonwealth.

Perhaps the most well-known of the Act’s provisions is the time-table on alimony.  As stated above, before the law was enacted, alimony went on indefinitely.  Now, there exists a well-defined time-table for alimony which is as follows:

  • For marriages that lasted more than 20 years, alimony will end at retirement age.
  • For marriages that lasted 5 years or less – alimony will be in place for a maximum of 50% of the number of months of marriage.
  • For marriages that lasted more than 5 years but less than 10 years – 60% of the number of months of marriage.
  • For marriages that lasted more than 10 years but less than 15 years – 70% of the number of months of marriage.
  • For marriages that lasted more than 15 years but less than 20 years – 80% of the number of months of marriage.

This means that there are now definite and practical limits to alimony that do not go on for the rest of the payee’s life.  This is a welcome relief to many people who have prior alimony orders which call for lifetime alimony.

It should also be noted that the new law states that if the paying spouse remarries, the income and assets of his or her new husband/wife will not be considered in modifying alimony.  Further, the amount of alimony generally should not exceed 30-35% of the difference between the parties gross incomes established at the time of the alimony order.  Finally,in cases where good cause can be proven to grant an extension of alimony, the court has the discretion to do so.
The new law provides a fair and more reasonable roll for alimony in the lives of actual people.  Instead of alimony going on forever and generally until one party dies, alimony is now set for a fixed time period.  This allows far greater flexibility in planning around alimony and its end date.
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If you or someone you know has a Separation Agreement that calls for lifetime alimony, they may be able to have that changed under the new law.  It may be wise to contact an attorney and see if you have a chance for relief under the new statute.

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