One of the most contentious issues during divorce is often spousal support, or more commonly known as alimony. Spousal support payments are made from a higher-earning spouse to a lower-earning spouse during and after a divorce in order to help them maintain a similar quality of life as experienced during the marriage, or to help them achieve the occupational skills and education necessary to become self-sufficient.
In the past, Massachusetts had typical alimony laws that were based on notions of equity and were influenced by numerous factors, including the age of the spouses, the length of the marriage, the spouse’s conduct, and the spouses’ employability. The issue with these laws surrounded the fact that there were little to no guidelines as to when alimony should end, leading to the presence of conflicting rulings by judges and permanent alimony awards to be commonplace occurrences. This all changed, however, with the passage of the landmark Massachusetts’ Alimony Reform Act of 2011.
How Long Can Alimony Awards Last in Massachusetts?
Under this new legislation, alimony is now divided into several different categories, which are as follows:
1.General term: Periodic payments to an economically dependent recipient.
2.Rehabilitative: Payments to a spouse who is expected to become financially independent in a predictable period of time. Payments end upon events such as reemployment, completion of job training, or after receiving a certain sum from the paying spouse.
3.Reimbursement: Short-term or one-time payments to a receiving spouse for no more than five years after the end of the marriage to compensate the recipient for their contributions to the financial resources of the paying spouse.
4.Transitional: Short-term or lump-sum payment to a recipient for no more than five years after the end of the marriage to help the recipient transition to a new lifestyle or residence.
Alimony is now subject to durational limits that are based on the length of the marriage. Alimony awards in Massachusetts now adhere to the following limits:
- For a marriage 5 years or less: up to 50% of the length of the marriage
- For a marriage between 5 and 10 years: up to 60% of the length of the marriage
- For a marriage between 10 and 15 years: up to 70% of the length of the marriage
- For a marriage between 15 and 20 years: up to 80% of the length of the marriage
- For a marriage longer than 20 years: up to an indefinite amount of time
Courts may deviate beyond these time limits “in the interests of justice,” though this is determined on a case-by-case basis and is not required. Furthermore, most general alimony arrangements now terminate if the receiving spouse remarries, if either spouse passes away, or if the paying spouse reaches full retirement age, unless the court sees fit to rule otherwise.
How Much Alimony Should Be Paid?
A large number of the previous law’s factors are still included in the way the amount of alimony is to be calculated, including the length of the marriage, the age of the parties, the economic and non-economic contributions of each spouse, and the ability of each party to maintain the marital lifestyle. Now, a new factor known as “lost economic opportunity as a result of marriage” is used to reflect marital post-divorce partnership. Recipients are not entitled to a higher-quality lifestyle than the payer, and alimony is generally not to exceed 30-35% of the difference between the spouses’ gross incomes.
How Does the Alimony Reform Act Affect Past Arrangements?
The Alimony Reform Act’s passage does not qualify as a reason to modify the amount of an existing order issued prior to the law’s implementation, though it may be used to reduce the duration of an existing order. Existing alimony arrangements may not be modified under the new rules if it is a “survived” agreement, meaning that it contains a provision that deems it “non-modifiable” for the benefit of both spouses. Otherwise, an alimony arrangement may be modified if a material change in circumstances presents itself from the time the arrangement was first created.
Factors that may warrant a modification can include:
- Substantial change in income of either spouse
- Disability of either spouse
- Cohabitation of the receiving spouse with a new partner
- Increases in the cost of living
Knowledgeable Alimony Lawyer in Worcester
If you are involved in an alimony dispute or are looking to modify an existing alimony arrangement, our Worcester alimony attorneys at the Law Office of Robert W. Kovacs, Jr., can protect your interests and maximize your chances of securing a favorable outcome for your situation. With more than 30 years of collective experience handling all types of divorce and family law cases, we can provide the unshakable advocacy and support you deserve during this time.
Schedule an introductory case evaluation or call (508) 926-8833 today to get started.