Alimony update: Some aspects of new Massachusetts law still unclear

The impact that the new Massachusetts alimony law could have on divorces and other changes that occurred before the law became effective are not yet clear.

As most people in Boston know, in 2012, a law establishing significant changes to existing Massachusetts alimony laws went into effect. The new law created guidelines for calculating alimony awards and limiting alimony payment duration, making alimony orders more predictable, according to The Boston Globe. Proponents have hailed the legislation as a successful example of reasonable reform. However, reports indicate some aspects of the new law may still require legal clarification.

New alimony guidelines

The new law addresses the issue of long-term alimony payments that might be burdensome for the supporting spouse and not strictly necessary for the recipient. The law makes the following specific changes:

  • Alimony payments are terminated upon the paying spouse's retirement; however, family law judges can extend payments past this deadline if they show good cause for ordering ongoing financial support.
  • Payments are also terminated if the recipient decides to cohabit with a new partner and does so for longer than three months.
  • The maximum duration of payments is capped for marriages that lasted less than 20 years.

The law's retirement and duration clauses apply unambiguously to divorces that occurred after the law went into effect. However, determining how the cohabitation and retirement clauses apply in other cases has proved challenging.

Retroactive application of law

The effect that the retirement clause has on alimony orders that were created before the law became effective is not yet resolved. In October, the Massachusetts Supreme Court heard oral arguments for three alimony cases centering on this issue, according to The Boston Globe.

In one case, a retired man who divorced in 1992 requested the termination of his alimony obligations. The ruling on this case could help clarify whether the retirement clause can apply retroactively. If so, state courts may also need to address other questions, such as whether retired spouses who have been paying alimony are entitled to refunds.

The provision that alimony stops when the recipient has cohabited with another partner for three months has also proven to be a source of confusion for legal representatives and family law judges. Some experts believe this clause only applies to alimony recipients who began cohabiting after the law became effective. Others believe it applies to any alimony recipient who has lived with another partner for at least three months.

Seeking expert advice

In many cases, the state's new alimony law has served to make alimony orders more predictable and uniform. Still, knowing exactly what to expect under the law can be difficult for anyone preparing for a divorce. People who are in this position may benefit from meeting with a family law attorney to discuss potential outcomes of the divorce, along with possible complications during the proceedings.

Keywords: alimony, spousal support, maintenance