Alimony and the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011

As a Newburyport divorce firm, we know the subject of alimony often comes up early in the divorce process. Individuals wonder if alimony will factor in as a part of their case, how much alimony will be awarded, and for how long. The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 was written partly as a way for individuals and their attorneys to predict the outcome of any alimony decisions should the case proceed to trial. The framework provided as a part of this act became effective in March, 2012.

Prior to the Alimony Reform Act of 2011, the alimony law was vague and did not provided much guidance. There was no formula, and the judgment of the amount and length of alimony was at the discretion of the court. The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 still allows room for court discretion, but general guidelines dictate with a reasonable certainty what the alimony should be.

The new law creates four different categories for alimony: general term, rehabilitative, reimbursement, and transitional.

General term alimony: General term alimony refers to alimony in the traditional sense. This alimony is paid by one spouse to the financially dependent spouse. If the financially dependent spouse gets remarried, they are no longer entitled to this support. If the dependent spouse lives with a partner continuously, alimony can be suspended, minimized, or even cut off completely. The supporting spouse is no longer required to pay alimony after reaching ‘full retirement age,’ the age at which they are eligible for social security benefits. In addition, alimony ends when either party passes away.

General alimony guidelines: The guidelines for the length of alimony payments are based on the length of the marriage.

  • If the marriage lasted five years or less, the length of alimony can be no greater than half of the length of the marriage.
  • If the marriage lasted over five years but less than ten years, the length of alimony can be no greater than 60 percent of the length of the marriage.
  • If the marriage lasted over ten years but less than fifteen years, the length of alimony can be no greater than 70 percent of the length of the marriage.
  • If the marriage lasted over fifteen years but less than twenty years, the length of alimony can be no greater than 80 percent of the length of the marriage.
  • If the marriage lasted over twenty years, there is no limit to the length of alimony.

General alimony amount: The amount of general alimony is approximately 30 to 35 percent of the difference between the gross income of each spouse.

Rehabilitative alimony: Rehabilitative alimony refers to the payment to a spouse who is responsible for becoming self-supporting by a certain date, through getting a job, completing a program of education, or receiving a monetary settlement from the spouse.

Reimbursement alimony: Reimbursement alimony is supposed to pay one spouse back for the support (financial or otherwise) that spouse provided during the marriage. It can only be granted in marriages that ended in less than five years. This alimony can last any period of time and cannot be changed. It ends upon the death of the recipient or the term required in the divorce. If the supporting spouse dies before this debt is fully paid, it can be taken from their estate.

Transitional alimony: Transitional alimony is the payment(s) made to a spouse after a marriage that ended in less than five years. This payment is intended to help the receiving spouse transition to a new location or living situation. These payments cannot be extended, changed, or replaced with any other kind of alimony, and they end either when the recipient dies or on a specific date that is three years or less from the divorce date. If the supporting spouse dies before this debt is fully paid, it can be taken from their estate.

The act further states that alimony must be determined prior to distribution of property. Alimony should no longer be considered based on the factors in Section 34. Section 34 should be used to determine how property will be distributed, and the amount of length of alimony has been added so that it now can be considered as a factor during the distribution of property.

The distribution of property is now determined only after alimony has been decided. As per Section 34, property is to be distributed based on how long the marriage lasted, how each spouse behaved during the marriage, the ages, overall health, careers, amount and type of income, skills, ability to achieve employment, assets, debts, requirements of each party, and the amount and length of alimony.

The divorce process is a time of uncertainly, ambiguity, and financial and emotional stress. The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 creates clarity and transparency in an otherwise murky situation. Instead of confrontation and volatility, the former spouses can enjoy a situation of agreement and calm.  Every case has unique facts to consider in applying the law.  The only way to get a true understanding of how the law will apply to your case is to schedule an attorney consultation.  To schedule one with our office, call (978) 225-9030.