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Historic Changes To Massachusetts Alimony Law

Massachusetts made sweeping changes to its alimony laws on March 1, 2012. Alimony, also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance, is a court order to one spouse to pay ongoing financial support to the other spouse after divorce. The new law sets out extraordinarily detailed rules for alimony awards, limiting the instances when long-term or lifetime payments can be ordered.

The new rules are said to be among the most specific state alimony laws in the nation.

The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 passed unanimously in both chambers of the state legislature and on September 26, 2011, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed the historic legislation. The measure was supported by state bar associations, and fathers’ rights groups like Massachusetts Alimony Reform.

Under previous law, ex-spouses could be ordered to pay alimony for life, even past retirement and into advanced age. However, the length of time for which alimony can be ordered under the new law is often tied to the duration of the marriage in question and in most circumstances will stop when the payor reaches retirement age. In setting or modifying alimony in some situations the court will be able to consider the payor’s unemployment, advanced age, health problems and certain other relevant factors.

If appropriate, the court is also allowed to impute income to an alimony recipient who is “unemployed or underemployed” if appropriate.

Specifically, the law sets out four new types of alimony:

  • General term alimony: Payments to an “economically dependent” ex-spouse; term normally depends on length of marriage; ends on remarriage of recipient ex-spouse; may be affected by recipient’s cohabitation; normally ends with payor’s retirement
  • Rehabilitative alimony: Payments to an ex-spouse expected to become financially independent by a certain date; usually lasts up to five years
  • Reimbursement alimony: Periodic or lump-sum payment to ex-spouse of shorter marriage (up to five years); payment to reimburse receiving ex-spouse for contribution during marriage to economic well-being of other ex-spouse; no modification possible
  • Transitional alimony: Periodic or lump-sum payment to ex-spouse of shorter marriage (up to five years); payment during adjustment to new lifestyle or location; up to three years of payments allowed and no modification

For alimony awarded entered prior to March 1, 2012, the law also sets out a schedule for when and if ex-spouses may return to court to ask for reconsideration under the new law. If you have a pre-existing Massachusetts alimony award, it is advisable to speak with a skilled alimony lawyer to understand whether your award is eligible for possible modification under the new law.

Anyone contemplating divorce should also consult an experienced family law attorney as early as possible to protect his or her rights and understand the options for spousal support and other important matters.