The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 is endorsed by the Boston Bar Association and the Massachusetts Bar Association and it is currently navigating its way through the Massachusetts Legislature. The bill seeks to rectify the fact that under the present laws in Massachusetts, the granting of alimony is subject to wide interpretation; it is applied inconsistently from judge to judge and even from one county court or case to another. For example, one frequently asked question is, "If I do not have an end date for paying/receiving alimony, will it go on until one of us dies?" The answer to this question is, its possible.
Today, a Probate and Family Court judge does not have the power to terminate alimony. Divorcing and post divorce parties, even after working with an experienced attorney, have no predictable and reliable guidelines to consider at a time when they are making alimony decisions that will significantly affect them and any family they may have now or in the future. Should the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 become law there will be several key changes to how alimony is determined and terminated in Massachusetts.
One change is that alimony could be terminated under certain circumstances, including cohabitation by the recipient. Further, the most significant change that the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 introduces into law is that alimony can terminate after a predetermined length of time based on the length of the marriage.
The following is a summary of the currently proposed time standards for what the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 refers to as General Alimony (A judge can deviate from the time lines upon written findings that the deviation is in the interest of justice):
For a marriage of five years or less, alimony shall be no longer than half of the length of the marriage. As an example, a marriage of five years would have an alimony length of two and one-half years;For a marriage of more than five years up to ten years, alimony shall be no longer than sixty percent of the length of the marriage. As an example, a ten year marriage would have an alimony length of six years;
For a marriage of more than ten years up to fifteen years, alimony shall be no longer than seventy percent of the length of the marriage. As an example, a marriage of fifteen years would have an alimony length of ten and one-half years;
For a marriage of more than fifteen years up to twenty years, alimony shall be no longer than eighty percent of the length of the marriage. As an example, a twenty year marriage would have an alimony length of sixteen years; and
For a marriage of more than twenty years, the Court can use its discretion to order alimony for an indefinite length of time.
General Alimony can be reduced, suspended or even terminated if the person paying the alimony can show that the alimony recipient has cohabitated or maintained a common household with another person.
Proof of cohabitation can be shown to the Court by:
Statements or writings made to others about the relationship of the cohabitants;
The financial relationship between the cohabitants, including one member of the couple being financially reliance on the other member of the couple;
The cohabitating couple's conduct in advancing their lives together. For example, did the couple purchase a house or rent an apartment together?;
How the people in the community view the cohabitants; and
Other relevant evidence showing cohabitation.
Additionally, General Alimony that is affected by cohabitation can be reinstated once the cohabitation comes to an end. General Alimony awarded by the Court would be modifiable if there is a material change of circumstances. For example, General Alimony would usually terminate upon the paying spouse reaching retirement age. Retirement age means actually reaching a certain age and not early retirement or when the paying spouse stops working.
Other forms of alimony created by the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 are:
Rehabilitative Alimony, which is alimony that is paid with the expectation that the person receiving the alimony will become economically independent at a determinable time;
Reimbursement Alimony which is alimony that is paid in a marriage of no longer than five years that pays back the person receiving the alimony for non-economic contributions to the marriage. As an example, the recipient spouse may have made it possible to the paying spouse to complete a college education; and
Transitional Alimony which is alimony that is paid in a marriage of no longer than five years to transition the recipient to an adjusted lifestyle or perhaps to allow the recipient to relocate to another location.
What about alimony orders in effect if/when the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 becomes law?
Passage of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 would not be considered a material change of circumstances in and of itself to modify pre-existing alimony orders. However, passage of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 would be deemed a material change of circumstance giving rise to modify existing alimony orders if the time durations of existing alimony orders exceed those time standards set forth in the Alimony Reform Act of 2011. Therefore, it may be very important for you to consult with an attorney if you have an existing alimony order and the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 becomes law.
The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 is a lengthy and comprehensive piece of legislation. Although it is not law at this time and as of now this bill has no effect on current alimony law, you should certainly consider the potential ramifications of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 on your life in the event that it should become law. If you have questions about the issue of alimony in your divorce or post divorce matter, please feel free to contact Attorney Nora Daniels for an appointment to discuss how the current and pending alimony laws can addressed to best assist your specific situation.Nora Daniels, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
45 Cherry Place
Newton, MA 02465