Robert and Mary, a Massachusetts couple, have been married for ten years and now want to proceed with obtaining a divorce. During the marriage, Robert worked and Mary took care of the home. They had no children. Because Robert has a pension plan, the question comes up: how does a court handle Social Security benefits and pension/retirement plans in property division and alimony?
In Massachusetts, the property in a divorce is subject to an “equitable division.” This does not mean that each party to the marriage receives an equal share of property in the marriage. Rather, each party to a marriage receives fair and equitable amounts of property, so that each party can experience a similar lifestyle to which he or she grew accustomed during the marriage.
A pension earned during the marriage generally counts as a joint asset of both parties; likely, a qualified domestic relations order would equitably divide it. This is an order that is filed with the Massachusetts Family Court and if approved is given to the administrator of the pension, so that the pension may be divided between the parties. The division of a pension may be a complex issue because pensions, also including IRA or 401(k) accounts, are not always equal in a dollar for dollar manner; there may be penalties and taxes associated with them. A family law attorney can help evaluate and value the numerical amounts to handle this complexity on your behalf.
Retirement accounts are also considered to be marital assets in a divorce. As such, retirement accounts would be divided on an equitable basis. This issue becomes complex, however, because the parties must look to the length of the marriage. For example, in the case above, Mary and Robert’s marriage lasted ten years. Suppose, therefore, that Robert continues to work for another 30 years. His payment to Mary would be one half of the quarter of the account because his payment is one half of his working life during the marriage.
Alimony is different from property division in a divorce. It is court-ordered support from one spouse to another and is separate from the equitable division of property. 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).
If a judge decides to award alimony under the common General Term alimony standard, then he or she will review the following factors when deciding whether or not to award alimony or for how much the alimony award should be assigned: the length of the marriage; age of the parties; health of the parties; income, employment and employability of both parties, including employability through reasonable diligence and additional training, if necessary; economic and non-economic contribution of both parties to the marriage; marital lifestyle; ability of each party to maintain the marital lifestyle; lost economic opportunity as a result of the marriage, and other factors the court considers relevant and material.
What about Robert and Mary?
Robert and Mary were married for ten years; the facts indicate that Robert was the sole working person in their family unit. As such, a judge would likely award alimony payments to Mary from Robert. Depending on the type of alimony that the Court determines Mary would receive, Mary would likely be able to receive alimony payments until Robert’s retirement age. The Massachusetts family court may review several factors in awarding alimony payments to Mary. These could include her health and disability (if she has issues such as these); marital lifestyle (she was able to stay at home); and her contribution to the family unit (lost opportunity to work, for example).
If a Massachusetts Justice decides to use this equitable factors approach under General Term Alimony, then the Justice would likely order that Mary receive alimony for seven years, unless Mary remarries or if Robert passes away or if Robert reaches full retirement age. If Mary cohabitates with someone else and maintains a common household with another person, then Mary’s alimony payments may be ceased. It is important that a payor spouse, like Robert, not arbitrarily discontinue payments without the approval from a Massachusetts Justice.
Are you looking for an experienced Newburyport or Andover divorce lawyer or family law attorney? If you are seeking a competent family, pension, retirement, or alimony law lawyer or domestic relations attorney, please contact our offices by phone at 978-225-9030 during business hours or complete a contact form on our website. We will respond to your phone call or submission promptly, and you may schedule a free consultation with us.