Massachusetts had a huge change in the alimony law in April 2012. Up until that point, alimony was generally lifetime alimony. The payer spouse would have to pay alimony until their death. Sometimes in an agreement, it would say that alimony would terminate upon retirement, but not always. Sometimes there was no end date. The new alimony law in Massachusetts sets time limits for how long alimony is payable. That is 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. The court takes the number of months you have been married and start with a percentage of 55%. It goes up from there. Basically, that is the number of months you have to pay alimony for.
After 20 years of marriage, it can be an indefinite term in the state of Massachusetts. The caveat to all of this is that the judge looks at the ability of the payer party to in fact pay the alimony and the needs of the recipient party. If the recipient party does not have a need for it, alimony might not get paid. However, in a case where somebody has been the breadwinner throughout the marriage and where the other has a lesser earning capacity, generally, the new alimony law would apply. If you have been married longer, you are required to pay a certain percentage based on the number of months you have been married. So, it varies with the length of the marriage.
The length of the marriage is computed from the date of the marriage to the date the divorce is served. For instance, we recently had a case in Mansfield where the couple were just on the cusp of reaching the 20-year mark. We wanted to get them in the 15-20 year category, so we acted quickly to serve the divorce complaint.
The other thing to know with alimony is that everything in this area is general. However, the way it is computed now is based on what is known as the ‘disparity of incomes’.
Whether people who had lifetime alimony agreements can modify their alimony depends on what they agreed to at the time of the divorce. In some agreements alimony is modifiable and in others it is not. If you have been paying a lifetime alimony agreement and want to modify it, will all depend if you have signed a surviving alimony clause. When you sign a surviving alimony clause, the clause is not modifiable. You can’t modify them because both parties agreed that it would be non-modifiable. The right to modify will also depend on how long it’s been since your agreement was signed. The alimony law grandfathers these people in and does not give them the ability to come back to court if they have a merging alimony clause.