In 2011 the legislature overhauled the states then antiquated alimony laws by passing “An Act reforming alimony in the Commonwealth”. Alimony is defined by statute as the payment of support from a spouse, who has the ability to pay, to a spouse in need of support for a reasonable length of time, under a court order. The new statute (M.G.L. c. 209 S 34) and the provisions included therein provides for greater consistency throughout the Commonwealth in not only calculating the amount of the alimony order but also the length of the alimony obligation. The Act further defines the four subsets of alimony:
- General Term Alimony: the periodic payment of support to a recipient spouse who is economically dependent. General term alimony is the most commonly ordered type of alimony
- Rehabilitative Alimony: the periodic payment of support to a recipient spouse who is expected to become economically self-sufficient by a predicted time, such as, without limitation, reemployment; completion of job training; or receipt of a sum due from the payor spouse under a judgment.
- Reimbursement Alimony: the periodic or one-time payment of support to a recipient spouse after a marriage of not more than 5 years to compensate the recipient spouse for economic or noneconomic contribution to the financial resources of the payor spouse, such as enabling the payor spouse to complete an education or job training.
- Transitional Alimony: the periodic or one-time payment of support to a recipient spouse after a marriage of not more than 5 years to transition the recipient spouse to an adjusted lifestyle or location as a result of the divorce.
Amount of Alimony:
Except for reimbursement alimony or circumstances warranting deviation for other forms of alimony, the amount of alimony should generally not exceed the recipient’s need or 30 to 35 per cent of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes established at the time of the order being issued. However, the alimony statute was passed prior to the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act of 2017 when alimony payments were then deductible by the payor spouse and conversely includable as income to the recipient spouses. Beginning January 1, 2019 alimony payments no longer have a taxable effect for divorce judgments entered after December 31, 2018. Consequently, in practice Courts have reduced the alimony calculation from 30 to 35 per cent of the difference between the parties gross income to approximately 22-26 per cent of the difference between the parties gross income due to the fact alimony no longer has a tax effect.
Length of Alimony:
- If the length of the marriage is 5 years or less, general term alimony shall continue for not longer than one-half the number of months of the marriage.
(2) If the length of the marriage is 10 years or less, but more than 5 years, general term alimony shall continue for not longer than 60 per cent of the number of months of the marriage.
(3) If the length of the marriage is 15 years or less, but more than 10 years, general term alimony shall continue for not longer than 70 per cent of the number of months of the marriage.
(4) If the length of the marriage is 20 years or less, but more than 15 years, general term alimony shall continue for not longer than 80 per cent of the number of months of the marriage.
If the judge awards “general term alimony” or “rehabilitative alimony,” they may decide not to follow the limits for how long you should pay alimony or how much it should be, if there are good reasons to do so. Reasons may include:
- If either party is elderly or has a chronic illness or unusual health circumstances
- The parties’ tax considerations
- Whether the spouse paying alimony is providing and paying for health insurance for the ex-spouse
- Whether the spouse who is paying has been ordered to provide and pay for life insurance for the ex-spouse’s benefit
- Sources and amounts of unearned income, including capital gains, interest and dividends, annuity, and investment income from assets the spouse paying alimony still has that weren’t given to the receiving spouse at the time of divorce
- Living together for a long time before getting married and sharing money during that time, or living apart before the divorce for a long time. The court may consider these when determining the length of the marriage.
- If a spouse isn’t able to support themself because the ex-spouse physically or mentally abused them
- If a spouse isn’t able to support themself because they don’t have property, maintenance or employment opportunity
- Any other factor the court thinks is relevant and includes in a written explanation
If the spouse who’s paying alimony remarries, a judge who’s deciding whether to increase the alimony will not consider the new spouse’s income.
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Basis for Alimony:
The Court will consider the following factors in issuing an alimony order:
- The length of the marriage;
- The age of the parties;
- The health of the parties;
- The income, employment and employability of both parties;
- The contributions of the parties during the marriage;
- The lifestyle of the parties during the marriage;
- The ability of the parties to maintain the same lifestyle that each had during the marriage;
- The possible loss of economic opportunity during the marriage; and
- Any other factor(s) the Court finds relevant and material.
What is considered income for the purposes of alimony?
The Child Support Guidelines include a list of what counts as “gross income.” This includes but is not limited to:
- salaries, wages, overtime and tips;
- income from self-employment;
- severance pay;
- interest and dividends;
- income derived from businesses/partnerships.
The Court will not include:
- Capital gains income and dividend and interest income which come from assets you have already fairly divided
- Gross income a judge used or is using for a child support order
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General Term alimony shall suspend or terminate upon the remarriage of the recipient spouse, the death of either spouse, the recipient spouse maintain a common household with another person for a continuous period of at least 3 months, or upon the payor attaining the full retirement age.
Modification: If your alimony obligation merged into your judgment of divorce it is modifiable upon the finding of a material and substantial change in circumstance since the entry of the alimony order. Some of the most common reasons for requesting a modification of an alimony order include a a reduction in the payor’s income, an increase in the payee’s income, or a change in the parties respective living expenses.