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Changes in Alimony - The Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011
If you currently have an alimony Judgment or Order in Massachusetts, or are contemplating divorce or separation, new changes in the law may affect how long you pay or receive alimony.
The new Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act, which took effect on March 1, 2012, sets limits on the duration and amount of alimony judgments. These changes are prospective and retroactive, which means even past alimony judgments are affected by the new law.
Duration of Alimony
The new Alimony Reform Act abolishes lifetime alimony for marriages that lasted 20 years or less. The length of a marriage is determined by calculating the number of months from the date of legal marriage to the date you or your spouse first filed for divorce. If you were married for 20 years or less, the number of years you have to pay or receive alimony is graduated as follows:
For marriages that lasted more than 20 years, the Court may still order alimony for an indefinite period of time.
Other Factors Influencing Duration of Alimony
Notwithstanding these changes, the new law still allows the Court to deviate beyond the time limits, but only if the Court determines deviation is necessary. And, once a judgment is entered, it may still be modified by agreement of the parties or by the Court if there is a material change in circumstances justifying a modification.
If an alimony recipient remarries, the Court may terminate alimony altogether, depending on the type of alimony awarded. Also, if the alimony recipient cohabitates with another person for at least 3 months, the Court also may suspend, reduce, or terminate alimony payments depending on the circumstances.
With a few exceptions, alimony payments also terminate when the alimony payor reaches full retirement age, whether or not they work beyond that age.
Amount of Alimony Payments
The amount of alimony payment should not exceed the recipient’s need, or 30-35% of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes as established as of the date of the order. This does not apply for “reimbursement alimony”, or when the Court determines the circumstances warrant deviation.
How to Get Your Judgment Modified
(1) If your current alimony judgment exceeds the durational limits as provided in the new Alimony Reform law.
You may ask the Court to modify the judgment with no other reason than the number of years you are currently required to pay exceeds the Act’s durational limits. The Alimony Reform Act considers this a material change in circumstances without further proof. See the Chart below to determine if you automatically qualify to file and when:
(2) Material Change in Circumstances.
You can still file a Complaint to Modify alimony sooner if you can prove that you have suffered a material change of circumstances – e.g. retirement, loss of job or income.
(3) If you have reached retirement age, or will reach retirement age by March 1, 2015.
You may ask the Court to terminate alimony starting March 1, 2013.
(4) If you currently pay more alimony than the amount specified in the Alimony Reform Act.
This by itself is not equivalent to a material change in circumstances, and therefore in order to have your payment amounts modified there has to be another reason that justifies modification – consult with an expert.
There is an Exception to Modifying Divorce Judgements
If your Divorce Agreement requires that alimony survives Judgment Nisi and you and your spouse agreed not to modify the terms of Alimony, you may only modify alimony in very limited and special circumstances.
It is imperative that you consult with an expert attorney who can inform you of your right to alimony, right to terminate alimony, or your right to reduce or increase alimony.
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Massachusetts courts can order alimony in any divorce. Courts consider a wide range of financial issues when awarding alimony, such as the length of the marriage, the conduct of the parties during the marriage, each spouse's age, health and ability to earn an income.
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