The New Alimony Reform Law

A new Alimony law became effective March 1, 2012, and made significant changes to alimony in Massachusetts. Here is a summary of some of the new provisions.

Four Types of Alimony

General Term Alimony  is the “periodic payment of support to a recipient spouse who is economically dependent.”  This will be the most common form of alimony under the new law.
Rehabilitative Alimony  is the periodic payment of support to a recipient spouse who is expected to become economically self-sufficient by a predicted time, such as reemployment, completion of job training, or receipt of a sum due from the payor spouse pursuant to a judgment. This is intended as a short-term solution lasting no more than five years.
Reimbursement Alimony   is the periodic or one-time payment of support to a recipient spouse after a marriage of not more than five years, intended to compensate the recipient for economic or non-economic contributions to the financial resources of the payor spouse, such as enabling the payor spouse to complete and education or job training.
Transitional Alimony  is the periodic or one-time payment of support to a recipient spouse after a marriage of not more than five years and for the purpose of transitioning the recipient to an adjusted lifestyle or location as a result of the divorce.

The Amount of Alimony

The new law sets a range within which the judge may set alimony:  generally (a) the recipient’s need, or (b) 30% to 35% of the disparity of income.

“Need” is determined on a case by case basis, but generally means if the dependent spouse can’t meet the necessities of life on his or her income, that’s the need.

Example:  Husband earns $1,600 per week gross; Wife earns $600.  The disparity is $1,000. Alimony would presumptively be between $300 and $350 (30-35% of $1,000).  However, this is subject to adjustment based on actual need; and the Deviation Factors below.

In some circumstances, the Judge has discretion to exceed these guidelines (either upward or downward) but only in truly unusual cases and based upon written findings.

The Duration of Alimony

Type of AlimonyMaximum Duration
Rehabilitative AlimonyNot more than 5 years
Transitional AlimonyNot more than 3 years
Reimbursement AlimonyNot specified, but probably intended for very short terms
General Term AlimonySee Chart Below

Duration of General Term Alimony

Length of MarriageDuration of General Term Alimony
5 years or less50% of length of marriage
More than 5 years but less than 1060% of length of marriage
More than 10 years but less than 1570% of length of marriage
More than 15 years but less than 2080% of length of marriage
More than 20 yearsIndefinite, but limited by the factors below

Mechanically, to determine the duration of alimony, the statute requires the calculation to be based on the length of marriage in months.   Thus, a marriage of 12-1/2 years would result in presumptive alimony for 10 years, calculated as follows:  12-1/2 years = 150 month; times 80% = 120 months, or ten years.

General Term Alimony also ends upon:

  • The remarriage of the recipient;
  • The death of the recipient;
  • The death of the payor (yes, in the past, alimony was payable even after you were dead!);
  • The cohabitation of the recipient spouse with another person;
  • The payor reaching normal full retirement age.

Deviation Factors

The judge is permitted to deviate from the type and duration of alimony in particular circumstances, including:

  • Advanced age; chronic illness; or unusual health circumstances of either party;
  • Tax considerations applicable to the parties;
  • Whether the payor spouse is providing health insurance and the cost of heath insurance for the recipient spouse (a reduction may of alimony may be warranted);
  • Whether the payor spouse has been ordered to secure life insurance for the benefit of the recipient spouse and the cost of such insurance (a reduction may of alimony may be warranted);
  • Sources and amounts of unearned income, including capital gains, interest and dividends, annuity and investment income from assets that were not allocated in the parties’ divorce;
  • Significant premarital cohabitation that included economic partnership or marital separation of significant duration, each of which the court may consider in determining the length of the marriage;
  • A party’s inability to provide for his or her own support by reason of physical or mental abuse by the payor;
  • A party’s inability to provide for his or her own support by reason of a party’s deficiencies of property, maintenance or employment opportunities; and
  • Upon written findings, any other factor that the court deems relevant and material.

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