Sally and Bob’s marriage lasted nearly thirty years. During most of this time Sally worked as a doctor while Bob took care of the couple’s children. In 2002, they divorced, and the court ordered Sally to provide $500 per week to Bob. Sally has now reached “full retirement age” and wants to know whether the payments to Bob may end or be modified. What is the intersection of alimony payments and retirement?
The answer – as it is in many cases with the law – is: it depends. Specifically, the Court will look at whether any material change of circumstances has occurred.
What is alimony?
One of the most financially challenging aspects of any divorce proceeding is the requirement that one spouse provide alimony payments to another spouse. Alimony is court-ordered support from one spouse to another. In 2011, Massachusetts adopted the Alimony Reform Act. The Act, which took effect in March, 2012, governs the type, the amount, the duration, and the termination of alimony payments.
In Massachusetts, there are four types of alimony: (1) General Term alimony (provides regular support for a length of time based on the length of the marriage); (2) Rehabilitative alimony (provides regular support until the ex-spouse is able to be self-sustaining); (3) Reimbursement alimony (provides regular or one-time support for a shorter marriage to make up for costs that the ex-spouse paid in supporting the other spouse); and (4) Transitional alimony (provides regular or one-time support).
Typically, General Term alimony payments are required for the length of time that the marriage lasts. They may also end after a specific length of time established by a court. Alimony payments may end, also, when either spouse dies, when the spouse receiving the alimony remarries, or when the spouse paying the alimony reaches “full retirement age”. Thus, if the paying spouse continues to work past the retirement age, the paying spouse may not be required to continue to pay more alimony.
Judges may also choose to provide an extension of time for alimony payments, such as if there is a change in circumstances after the decision of alimony payments and length of time or there is clear and convincing evidence given for the need for an extension. This is where the issues of alimony payments and retirement intersect.
Alimony Reform Act:
A potential issue arises when an ex-spouse reaches the full retirement age and wants to terminate his or her alimony payments to his or her ex-spouse and the judgment order for alimony was established prior to the passing and enforcement of the Alimony Reform Act.
Massachusetts courts have held that for some alimony orders entered before March 1, 2012, the orders must continue past the “full retirement age” unless the paying spouse establishes that a material change of circumstances warrants modification of the alimony order. Courts held that the retirement provision in the Alimony Reform Act applies “prospectively,” and courts have looked toward the Legislature’s intent in deciding that the Alimony Reform Act does not apply retroactively to alimony orders entered before March, 2012.
In the scenario above, for example, without a “material change of circumstances,” a Massachusetts court may hold that Sally still must make the $500 alimony payments to Bob.
Are you looking for an experienced Newburyport or Andover divorce lawyer or family law attorney? If you have any questions about alimony or other issues, you may schedule a free consultation with our office. Call 978-225-9030 during regular business hours or complete our contact form online. We will get back to you at our earliest opportunity.
 Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 208 § 48
 Chin v. Merriot, 470 Mass. 527, 528 (2015)
 Rodman v. Rodman, 470 Mass. 539, 545-546 (2015)