The Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011 was signed into law on September 26, 2011 and went into effect March 1, 2012.
This new alimony law ushered in major changes to the antiquated alimony system in Massachusetts, and finally provided statutory relief from what many believed were unfair elements of the outdated approaches that existed. Highlighted below are the major changes under the Alimony Reform Act of 2011:
Massachusetts Alimony & the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 – Alimony Types
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 terminates upon remarriage of the recipient or death of either spouse. The length of rehabilitative alimony shall not be longer than 5 years, however it may be extended on a complaint for modification upon a showing of compelling circumstances.
2. Reimbursement Alimony
Reimbursement alimony is 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
As above, transitional alimony is only applicable in marriages of less than 5 years. The purpose is to help a spouse transition to an adjusted lifestyle or location as a result of divorce. Transitional alimony shall terminates upon the 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
General term alimony consists of periodic support payments to a spouse who is economically dependent. Under the Alimony Reform Statute of 2011, general term alimony ends when the recipient spouse remarries, or upon the death or either spouse. General Term Alimony will 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 to alimony in Massachusetts are the term limits set out 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, warranting such modification.
Determining Alimony in Massachusetts
In determining the appropriate category 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.
As you can imagine, how your situation is presented to the court will be important in cases where spouses are not able or willing to agree on spousal support.
- 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 a deviation include whether the payor spouse is providing health insurance and the cost of the health insurance for the recipient spouse. It also depends on whether the payor spouse is required to secure life insurance for the benefit of the recipient spouse, and the cost of the life 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 modifying a spousal support order, income from a second job or overtime 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 started 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.
Modifications of Alimony and the 2011 Alimony Reform Act
The passage of the 2011 Massachusetts alimony 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. It is important to have a qualified Norfolk Alimony Attorney review the terms of your divorce or separation agreement when considering filing for a Complaint for Modification.
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 may not be able to file for the 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 become eligible for full old-age benefits under the Social Security Act on or before March 1, 2015 may file a complaint for modification on or after March 1, 2013.
Click here to read the revised Massachusetts alimony statute on the MA Legislature website.
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