There were three major cases issued in January 2015 by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on the interpretation of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011. Here, we take a look at the second of those cases which deals with the question: “Does Mass General Law, Chapter 208, section 49(f), the provision establishing that reaching full retirement age is a basis for termination of alimony, apply to alimony awards entered into and merged into judgment prior to the effective date of the alimony reform act?” This case is Rodman v. Rodman.
While this question was answered in the Chin case, the opinion being issued the same exact day as the opinion in this case, the arguments here are slightly different than those in Chin. In Rodman, there was similarly a merged alimony award in effect at the time the Alimony Reform Act became effective. However, here, Mr. Rodman argues that his alimony obligation should terminate because the provision of the agreement requiring the alimony payment was merged with the judgment and, under Massachusetts law, merged provisions are always modifiable.
The background of this case is as follows. This was a very long term marriage, lasting 39 years. The parties divorced in 2008, settling their case by separation agreement, which provided that the husband would pay the wife $1,539 a week until either party died or the wife remarried.
When the husband filed his complaint for modification 2013, he asked the court to terminate his alimony obligation, terminate his obligation to reimburse her for the cost of health insurance payments, and terminate his obligation to provide life insurance for her benefit.
Mr. Rodman’s argument was further distinct from that in the Chin case in that it cited a specific provision of the law in support of his interpretation of the legislative intent of the Act. Legislative intent is essentially the purpose the legislature had in enacting the Act. The more a judge understands what the legislature was trying to accomplish with an act, the easier ambiguities can be resolved. Specifically, Mr. Rodman argued that because an uncodified provision of the Act provides that unmerged or otherwise nonmodifiable provisions of alimony agreements cannot be modified, then merged alimony words must remain modifiable and because the law had added additional means for modifying or terminating, those additional means should be available to Mr. Rodman in modifying or terminating his obligation.
While a logical argument, the SJC came to a different conclusion. The SJC opined that legislative intent cannot be determined by review of a single provision within an act. Rather, the act must be reviewed as a whole. Although Mr. Rodman’s argument had some merit, when assessing the act as a whole, the counter argument was more pursuasive.
The Rodman case is a great example of the importance of having a competent, knowledgeable divorce and family law attorney by your side. There are various issues to be resolved in any divorce, and there is complexity with each. I encourage you to continue reading and educating yourself on Massachusetts alimony and divorce law. However, there is no substitute for an attorney consultation, which we offer at no charge. Call 978-225-9030 to schedule your consultation today.