ALIMONY DURATION UNDER THE MASSACHUSETTS ALIMONY REFORM ACT

by Marion Lee Wasserman

STATUTORY FORMULA: Under the Massachusetts statute governing alimony (the Alimony Reform Act of 2011) so-called “general term alimony” awards shall be set for a period of time consistent with a formula specified in the statute. This formula links the duration of alimony to the length of the marriage. For marriages of twenty years or less, the court must not exceed the duration determined by the statutory formula “except upon a written finding that deviation is required in the interests of justice.” For marriages longer than twenty years, the court may order general term alimony for an indefinite length of time.

Here is the statutory formula for determining duration in marriages of twenty years or less: (1) If the length of the marriage is 5 years or less, general term alimony shall continue for not longer than one-half the number of months of the marriage.
(2) If the length of the marriage is 10 years or less, but more than 5 years, general term alimony shall continue for not longer than 60 per cent of the number of months of the marriage.
(3) If the length of the marriage is 15 years or less, but more than 10 years, general term alimony shall continue for not longer than 70 per cent of the number of months of the marriage.
(4) If the length of the marriage is 20 years or less, but more than 15 years, general term alimony shall continue for not longer than 80 per cent of the number of months of the marriage.

PRESUMPTION RELATED TO FULL RETIREMENT AGE: Notwithstanding the above formula, there is a presumption that general term alimony terminates upon the payor attaining full retirement age — i.e., the payor’s normal retirement age to be eligible to receive full retirement benefits under Social Security. The Act says that alimony “shall terminate” at full retirement age and that the “payor’s ability to work beyond the full retirement age shall not be a reason to extend alimony ….”

The court may, however, deviate from the presumption of termination at full retirement age, as follows: “When the court enters an initial alimony judgment, the court may set a different alimony termination date for good cause shown.” Also, if a recipient of general term alimony asks the court to extend the alimony award beyond the payor’s full retirement age, the court may grant an extension for good cause shown, provided that a material change of circumstance occurred after the original order was entered and provided that reasons for the extension are “supported by clear and convincing evidence.”

WHAT IS MEANT BY GENERAL TERM ALIMONY? Under the Act, this is alimony paid to an economically dependent spouse and is distinguished from three special, limited alimony categories: rehabilitative alimony, reimbursement alimony and transitional alimony (discussed in a separate Reach Accord blog post).

REMARRIAGE; DEATH; COHABITATION: Under the Act, all general term alimony awards terminate upon the remarriage of the recipient or the death of either spouse. Also, general term alimony shall be suspended, reduced or terminated upon the cohabitation of the recipient when the payor shows that the recipient has maintained a “common household” (as defined in the statute) for a continuous period of at least three months.

SEPARATION AGREEMENTS: For parties negotiating a voluntary Separation Agreement to be submitted to the court for incorporation into a divorce judgment, it is critical that the terms of the Act be taken into consideration, and any variation from the terms of the Act should be clearly indicated in the Separation Agreement.

Copyright © 2016 Marion Lee Wasserman. All rights reserved.

The above article is provided for general informational purposes. This article is based on Massachusetts law and applies to Massachusetts only. Furthermore, it is not intended to apply to any specific facts or circumstances and should not be construed or applied as legal advice or legal opinion or as tax advice or as establishing an attorney-client relationship.