Split Decisions: Changes Are Proposed for Massachusetts Alimony Determination
July 18, 2011
In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, attorneys and their clients have long been confounded by the laws that relate to alimony.
Here, alimony is governed by Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 208, Section 34; however, this statute does not provide any clear guideline to the judge as to the amount of alimony to be awarded in any given case. Furthermore, the statute fails to provide for any guidelines regarding the length of marriage and how this factors into granting alimony. Currently, the length of the marriage is just one of several factors that the judge must look at in making a determination as to whether or not to grant alimony to one of the spouses and, if so, in what amount.
The bigger issue, and one that has caused a considerable amount of uproar and criticism over the years, is the interpretation by Massachusetts courts that, upon granting alimony, and absent an agreement to the contrary by the parties themselves, the alimony obligation will continue on in perpetuity until either one of the parties dies, the recipient spouse gets remarried, or there is some other significant change in circumstances of the parties. The result of this is that, very often, one spouse could pay alimony to the other for a length of time that would far exceed the length of the marriage itself.
For example, if the parties were to marry at age 30 and divorce at age 40 (a marriage of 10 years), it is foreseeable that the paying spouse could pay alimony for perhaps 20 to 30 years. This gross inequity has long been viewed by those involved in the family-law system as the main component of the alimony system that needs to be changed. …
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