Massachusetts Alimony & the Reform Act of 2011

The Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011 was signed into law on September 26, 2011.  This alimony reform act has been described as a “sweeping overhaul” of the current Massachusetts spousal support laws.   The new statute went into effect March 1, 2012. Below are some of the major changes under the new law:

Alimony Term Limits

The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 describes four different categories of alimony:

1.  Rehabilitative alimony – payment of support to a spouse who is expected to become economically self-sufficient by a certain time, such as after re-employment or completion of job training.  Rehabilitative alimony shall terminate upon remarriage of the recipient or death or either spouse. The term of rehabilitative alimony shall be no longer than 5 years, however it may be extended on a complaint for modification upon a showing of compelling circumstances.

2.  Reimbursement alimony – only applicable in marriages of less than 5 years. It is the periodic or one-time payment of support for the purpose of compensating the recipient for economic or non-economic contributions, such as enabling the spouse to complete an education.  Reimbursement alimony shall terminate upon the death of the recipient or a set date and may not be modified by either party.

3. Transitional alimony – also only applicable in marriages of not more than 5 years. It is intended to help the spouse transition to an adjusted lifestyle or location as a result of the divorce.  Transitional alimony shall terminate upon death of the recipient or a date no longer than 3 years from the date of divorce. Transitional alimony may not be modified, extended, or replaced by another form of spousal support.

4.  General term alimony – periodic support payments to a spouse who is economically dependent. The new law terminates general term alimony when the recipient spouse remarries or upon the death or either spouse. General term alimony will also be suspended, reduced, or terminated upon the cohabitation of the recipient with a significant other for a continuous period of at least 3 months. One of the biggest changes in this new law are the term limits for general term alimony:

  • Long term marriages (more than 20 years): Spousal Support will end at retirement age as defined by the Social Security Act, whether or not a payor spouse is able to work beyond said age. However, the alimony term may be extended for good cause shown.
  • 5 years or less: Maximum term is 50% of the number of months of marriage.
  • 10 years or less but greater than 5 years: Maximum term is 60% of the number of months of marriage.
  • 15 years or less but greater than 10 years: Maximum term is 70% of the number of months of marriage.
  • 20 years or less but greater than 15 years: Maximum term is 80% of the number of months of marriage.

Despite these term limits, general term alimony may be modified in duration or amount if there is a material change in circumstances, which warrant a modification.

Amount of Spousal Support in Massachusetts

In determining the appropriate form of alimony, and in setting the amount, the court will consider the length of the marriage, age and health of the parties, both parties’ income, employment and employability, including employability through reasonable diligence and additional training, economic and non-economic contribution to the marriage, ability of each party to maintain the marital lifestyle, lost economic opportunity as a result of the marriage, and any other factors the court may deem relevant and material.

Except for reimbursement alimony, the amount of support should not exceed the recipient’s need, or 30-35% of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes established at the time of the order being issued. When determining income, the court shall exclude from its income calculation the gross income which the court already considered for setting a child support order.  The court may also attribute income to a party who is unemployed or underemployed.

In setting an initial spousal support order, or in modifying an existing order, the court may deviate from duration and amount limits for General Term Alimony and Rehabilitative Alimony. Grounds for deviation may include whether the payor spouse is providing health insurance and the cost of health insurance for the recipient spouse and whether the payer spouse has been ordered to secure life insurance for the benefit of the recipient spouse and the cost of such insurance.

Alimony and Child Support

When a court orders alimony concurrent with, or subsequent to, a child support order, the combined duration of alimony and child support shall not exceed the alimony duration available at the time of divorce or rehabilitative alimony commencing upon the termination of child support, whichever term is longer.

Modification of Alimony Judgment

When the court is considering a modification of a spousal support order, income from a second job or overtime work shall be presumed to be immaterial to the modification if the party works more than a single full-time, or equivalent, position and the second job or overtime commenced after the initial order. In addition, if the payor spouse has remarried, the income and assets of the new spouse shall not be considered in a re-determination of alimony in a modification action.

Modification of Existing Alimony Judgment

The passage of this new law is not a material change of circumstances in and of itself that warrants modification of an existing alimony judgment, unless the existing judgment exceeds the durational limits set forth for general term alimony. If the existing judgment exceeds the durational time limits set forth in the new law for general term alimony, then the existing award shall be modified upon complaint for modification, unless the court finds the deviation from the durational limits is warranted.

However, if an existing alimony order survived the judgment at the time of divorce, meaning it is not modifiable, then it may not be modified under the new law even if it exceeds the term limits set forth for general term alimony.

If you choose to seek a modification for an existing spousal support award based on the fact that it exceeds the new term limits for general term alimony, you will not be able to file for modification immediately. The new law sets up a schedule for when modifications of existing awards may be filed based on the length of the marriage:

  • 5 years or less may file modification action on or after March 1, 2013.
  • 10 years or less may file modification action on or after March 1, 2014.
  • 15 years or less may file modification action on or after March 1, 2015.
  • 20 years or less may file modification action on or after September 1, 2015.
  • Notwithstanding the above, payors who will become eligible for full old-age benefit under the Social Security Act on or before March 1, 2015 may file a complaint for modification on or after March 1, 2013.

Massachusetts Alimony Basics

Alimony (also known as spousal support), is addressed in Chapter 208, section 34 of the Massachusetts General Laws.  Of course, the new alimony reform act significantly alters this language –  after March 1, 2012.  The basis for alimony in Massachusetts is purely statutory and grounded in the theory that marriage is a partnership.

Alimony payments are deductible from the gross income of the payor and taxable as income to the recipient, unless the parties specifically agree to some other allocation of the tax consequences.

Over the next several years, it will be interesting to watch how the new law is applied by the courts, and how case law will develop regarding deviations from the more formulaic approach of the new statute.

Please keep an eye on our blog and this website for more information!

Contact our alimony lawyer serving clients throughout  Metro-West Massachusetts at (508) 346-3805.

Massachusetts divorce and alimony lawyer  – Norfolk, Millis, Medfield, Medway, Wrentham, Plainville, Walpole, Franklin, Foxboro, Bedford, Concord, Lexington, Carlisle, Billerica, Burlington, Sudbury, Lincoln, Wayland, Weston, Worcester, Shrewsbury, Westborough, Westboro, Southborough, Framingham

The Divorce Collaborative has offices located in Medway and Burlington, MA.