How Does Alimony Work in Massachusetts?

How Does Alimony Work in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts had a huge change in the alimony law in April 2012. Up until that point, alimony was generally lifetime alimony. A payor spouse would have to pay alimony until their death, or sometimes in an agreement it would say that alimony would terminate upon retirement. Sometimes there was no end date.

The new alimony law sets a time limit for how long alimony is payable. That’s entirely dependent upon how long the parties have been married. There is a breakdown for 0-5 years, 5-10 years, 10-15 years, and 15-20 years.  They take the number of months you’ve been married and the percentage starts at 50% and goes up from there from the number of months married.  After 20 years, it can be an indefinite term and the caveat is that the judge looks at the ability of the alimony paying party to pay the alimony and the needs of the recipient. If the recipient party does not have the need for alimony, then alimony might not get paid. When someone’s been the breadwinner throughout the marriage and someone else has a lesser earning capacity, the new alimony law would apply. The number of months you have to pay alimony depends on how long you’ve been married.  The length of the marriage is computed from the date of the marriage to the date the divorce is served, although premarital cohabitation is sometimes included. For instance, I recently had a case where they were just on the cusp of reaching the 20 year mark and we wanted to get them in the 15-20 year category, so we had to get service done a week before the 20 year mark.

The other thing to know with alimony is the way it’s computed.  Now they take what’s known as the “disparity of incomes”. They’ll take the payor spouse income; for example, the payor spouse makes $90,000 year and they’ll take the recipient spouse’s income; say the recipient spouse makes $10,000. If you subtract those two, you get $80,000 and then the alimony that’s paid annually would be between 30%-35% of that disparity. So the alimony paid to the recipient spouse would be 30%-35% of the $80,000.

Whether people who’ve had lifetime alimony agreements can modify their alimony, depends on whether or not they’ve agreed at the outset when they got divorced that they had a surviving alimony clause. This means that the clause is not modifiable, because there are people trying to modify lifetime alimony agreements.   But they can’t modify them because they agreed that it would be non-modifiable. The right to modify also depends on how long it’s been since your agreement was entered into. The alimony law is grandfathering those people in and then they do have the right to come back to court if they have a merging alimony clause.

This informational blog post was brought to you by Cynthia L. Hanley, an experienced Mansfield, Massachusetts Divorce Lawyer.