The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court weighed in today on how to determine the length of a marriage for the purpose of establishing an alimony award when the parties have married, divorced, and then remarried . . . and then divorced again. Yes, this actually happens!
Duff-Kareores v. Kareores
Facts of the Case
Mrs. Duff-Kareores and Mr. Kareores initially married in 1995. The wife was a full-time registered nurse. The husband was a medical resident. They had their first child in 1997. In 2001, they had their second child. After the birth of their first child, the wife left nursing to focus on the home and kids. The husband became gainfully employed as a fully qualified physician.
The wife filed their first divorce in 2003 and the divorce became final in 2004. In the first divorce, the court ordered that the wife retain the marital home and ordered the husband to move out. The court also ordered the husband to pay the wife $7,600 a month in alimony.
Three years later, the parties reconciled. The husband then moved back into the marital home. He continued to reside there through December 2012, when they remarried. Six weeks after the second marriage, the husband again moved out of the marital residence. The wife filed a complaint for divorce a few months later. By then, the wife had medical issues. These issues prevented the wife from becoming fully employed. Meanwhile, the husband was working as a full-time emergency room doctor.
In broader strokes, this case further refines cohabitation and the meaning of G.L. c. 208, section 48. G.L. c. 208, section 48 provides: “The court may increase the length of the marriage if there is evidence that the parties’ economic martial partnership began during their cohabitation period prior to marriage.”
The trial court judge measured the length of the marriage from the date of the first marriage through the date of the second divorce filing. This is most relevant because the wife did not file for the second divorce until after the enactment of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011. The Reform Act created durational limits for alimony. These limits are based on the length of the marriage. Simply stated, the Reform Act provides that the longer you’re married, the longer you’re eligible to receive alimony. This makes the measurement of the length of marriage the material issue.
The court had the difficult job of determining the length of the marriage for purposes of ordering alimony. This is because the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 reshaped the way we determine alimony between marriage one and marriage two. Given the dates of the marriages and divorce filings as set forth above, the husband’s best day in court would have limited the length to the second marriage. This period amounts to six months. The wife’s best day in court, alternatively, was the period starting from the first marriage and continuing through the second divorce filing. This period amounts to about 18 years.
Supreme Judicial Court
On appeal, the SJC disagreed in part with the trial judge. In its determination, the SJC excluded the period of time between the marriages during which the parties did not live together. The SJC’s decision on marriage and cohabitation duration for the purpose of determining alimony is a time period that includes: the entirety of the first marriage, any period of time the parties cohabitated between marriages, and the duration of the second marriage. The analysis of whether the parties were in an economic marital partnership and in a cohabitation was not completely clear at first glance. These terms are not defined within Section 48.
The court, therefore, looked to what it determined to be relevant provisions of other parts of the statute. In doing so, the court concluded “that the Legislature intended to use the terms cohabitation, economic marital partnership, and common household to describe a relationship that, if established, would affect a court order for alimony, either by increasing the amount and duration of alimony ordered or by reducing, suspending, or eliminating the award.”
While the Alimony Reform Act has helped to establish brighter line rules regarding alimony entitlement and duration, the facts surrounding cohabitation may create a more murky analysis. Given the uncertainty of this area of family law, you’re well advised to perform an analysis of your alimony case with the assistance of a competent divorce lawyer. If you’d like to consult for free with an experienced family law attorney in our Newburyport or Boston offices, please call us today at 978-225-9030.