The durational period for alimony is the length of time for which alimony payments will be ordered by the court. In a situation where alimony is awarded years after a divorce decree is entered, what is the starting point for the durational period of those alimony payments? Does the durational period begin to run at the time of divorce, or at the time of the alimony order? If there is a temporary alimony order, does the date of the first temporary payment affect the durational period?

This has become an important issue in recent years, as Massachusetts no longer recognizes lifetime alimony in most cases—therefore, the duration of alimony payments must be closely looked at under most circumstances.

In the recent case of Snow v. Snow, [1] the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court addressed this issue. In that case, the wife did not pursue her alimony claim during the divorce proceedings, but she sought an alimony order more than four years after the divorce was final. The wife explained that circumstances had changed: the husband had been supporting her with weekly payments of $1,000 but stopped making them. The wife became homeless and was living out of her car. She filed a request for alimony and received an order of temporary alimony in the amount of $850 per week. Approximately four months later, she received an order of general alimony in the amount of $810 per week, to be paid for the duration of 179 months. The judge noted that the start date for the durational period was the date of the first temporary alimony payment. Both parties appealed.

Transferring the case on its own, the Supreme Judicial Court held that the durational period for former wife’s general term alimony began to run on the award of general term alimony, and not on the date of the divorce judgment nor the date of the award of temporary alimony. Temporary alimony, the high Court reiterated from previous cases, is NOT general alimony. Here, the wife’s complaint was an initial request for alimony, rather than a modification, and the general term began at time the alimony order was issued.

In addition, the Court addressed two other issues. First, the Court held that Probate and Family Court was required to consider the husband’s post-judgment overtime income in determining the award of alimony. The trial judge erred because he only considered the husband’s base pay as his income for purposes of calculating alimony payments. Second, the Court held that the Probate and Family Court was required to make a specific determination as to whether health insurance should be provided by the husband to the wife. The wife successfully argued that this issue should have been addressed by the trial court.

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[1] Snow v. Snow, 476 Mass. 425 (2017).