A recent Massachusetts case addressed the issue of alimony modification where the event triggering a material change of circumstances was the emancipation of a child.
In Flor v. Flor, the parties’ divorce judgment ordered the husband to pay the wife child support until their child’s twenty-third birthday. 92 Mass. App. Ct. 360 (2017). The divorce decree also included an express waiver of the wife’s right to seek past and present alimony. Additionally, however, it included an express reservation of her right to seek alimony in the future.
As the child’s twenty-third birthday approached, the wife brought an action for modification and sought an award of alimony from the husband. The trial judge sided with the wife, ordering the husband to pay $145 weekly payments in alimony. The judge found that the wife’s expenses increased since the divorce while the husband’s expenses decreased; that the wife had not held steady employment since the divorce; that the husband’s financial circumstances were far superior to the wife’s; and that the emancipation of the child, coupled with the loss of child support payments, constituted a material change in circumstances.
The husband appealed, claiming that the trial judge abused his discretion. The husband argued two things regarding the lack of a material change in circumstances. “(1) that any material changes in circumstances are wholly attributable to the wife’s own neglect”; and “(2) that the loss of child support cannot be viewed as a material change.” Id., at 363.
The Appeals Court sided with the wife, stating that the impact of the wife’s failure to work was too speculative to require the judge to have attributed income to the wife. The court held that the trial judge correctly applied the Massachusetts laws governing alimony modification. “The judge found that the wife’s expenses had increased, and that she was unable to cover those expenses, even with a minimum wage job, whereas the husband enjoyed increased assets, decreased expenses, and had the ability to support the wife,” the Court stated. “The judge thus concluded that the wife had carried her burden of demonstrating that a material change in circumstances existed.” Id., at 364.
The husband further argued that he had a reasonable expectation that his support obligations would terminate at his child’s emancipation. He based this on the separation agreement. The court disagreed, however. “[T]he express reservation of the wife’s right to seek alimony in the future renders any such expectation unreasonable on its face,” the Court said. “The agreement reflects a mutual understanding that should circumstances change, the wife would be able to seek spousal support.” Id., at 366.
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