The third of three cases issued on January 30, 2015 by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts was the case of Doktor v. Doktor. As in Chin and Rodman, this case dealt with the issue of an existing alimony award, merged into final judgment, and the application of the retirement provisions of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011. Essentially, it’s the third of three cases dealing with whether alimony established prior to the act can be terminated when the payor reaches retirement age. And, as in the other two cases, the court found that it cannot, absent a material change in circumstances, which was the standard prior to the enactment of the Act.
Just a little background on this case to give you some context. Joseph and Dorothy were married 20 years and divorced in 1992. The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 became effective on March 1, 2012. Through the course of their marriage, the parties lived a pretty lavish lifestyle. They lived in a nice four-bedroom colonial home, went on vacations every year with the kids, and the husband bought the wife jewelry regularly, found the trial court.
When they divorced, the husband agreed to pay the wife $200 a week until either one of them died or until the wife remarried. None of these things happened, of course, but the husband did eventually reach retirement age. So, in June 2013, the husband filed a complaint for modification, seeking termination of the alimony based on the fact that he had reached full retirement age and also based on an argument that she no longer required the alimony.
Similarly to the other two alimony cases released on the same day, the SJC concluded that except in very limited circumstances the provisions of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 acted prospectively, not retroactively to cases already established prior to the effective date of March 1, 2012. While there is some exception to that rule–mainly the length of time that the alimony can go for–alimony cannot be terminated just because the payor has reached retirement age.
While the Court did not take up this case for review because of the other issue cited, that being that the wife no longer required alimony, it is always interesting to take a look at the analysis because it gives parties and lawyers a sense of how their cases would fare in the same court.
As to the issue of whether the wife still required alimony, the SJC noted that the trial court judge properly looked to the lifestyle the parties lived during their marriage, the divorce of which had notably occurred over 20 years earlier.
The court considered the lifestyle as explained above and further noted that, although each party walked away from the divorce with significant assets, it would be unfair to require the wife to spend her assets in order to maintain the same lifestyle she lived during the marriage. The court also found that while the husband maintained a similar lifestyle after the divorce, the wife significantly downgraded. I should also note that the parties stipulated that the husband did still have the ability to pay the $200 in weekly alimony and so the analysis was more on her need for the money to maintain her former lifestyle. The trial judge found she did in fact need the $200 a week to get by, even to cover her then-existing expenses which were significantly lower than her marital expenses. Accordingly, the trial judge dismissed the action for the husband’s failure to establish a material change in circumstances.
Alimony can certainly be a tricky issue, and no doubt the parties and all three of these cases spent significant resources getting through their cases. This area of the law can be complicated and continues to evolve. All the more reason to continue to educate yourself and build your foundational knowledge. However, there is no substitute to meeting with a knowledgeable and experienced divorce lawyer who is able to apply the law, in its current state, to the facts of your case. We offer free attorney consultations in our Newburyport, Andover, and Boston offices. Call 978-225-9030 to schedule your consultation today.