Until 2012, in many cases, alimony in Massachusetts was awarded on a lifetime basis, and judges had widespread discretion concerning the amount and duration of alimony awards. In 2012, Massachusetts modified its existing alimony laws by adopting the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act, as it's commonly known, which sharply reduces the duration of alimony awards; alimony is now generally based on how long a couple was married. The 2012 reform law also reduced the amount of discretion judges have in determining the amount of alimony awards. This brings Massachusetts generally in line with the laws for awarding alimony in other states.
Marital Misconduct and Alimony
Massachusetts is both a no-fault and fault divorce state. To get a no-fault divorce, you need only allege that your marriage is irretrievably broken. The vast majority of divorces are granted on this basis. However, seven fault grounds for divorce exist: cruel and abusive behavior, which is usually in the form of domestic violence; desertion; incarceration in prison; drug or alcohol abuse; neglect; adultery and impotence. Marital misconduct, such as adultery, becomes relevant if it has a serious impact on the finances of the family.
The Alimony Reform Act sets forth a general formula for calculating alimony payments. Generally, payments are limited to the need of the recipient, or 30 to 35 percent of the difference between the gross income of the divorced parties. However, there are no rigid rules -- a Massachusetts judge can consider other factors, such as the age and health of the parties, their occupations and employment prospects after the divorce.
Types of Alimony
Massachusetts classifies alimony into four categories: general term alimony, rehabilitative alimony, reimbursement alimony and transitional alimony. General term alimony is intended to enable the economically dependent spouse to maintain her previous lifestyle, as long as the other party has the ability to pay the necessary amount. Rehabilitative alimony can be granted to improve the earnings prospects of a spouse through further education and training. The Alimony Reform Act caps rehabilitative alimony at five years. Reimbursement alimony repays a spouse who contributed, economically or non-economically, to the other spouse's financial resources. For example, if you worked to put your spouse through medical school. Transitional alimony can be granted to enable you to make the switch from married to single life. For example, you might need to find a job if you weren't previously working.
Duration of Alimony
The Alimony Reform Act sets forth a formula that bases the duration of general term alimony payments on the length of the marriage. For example, if a marriage lasts five years or less, you could get alimony payments for the number of months corresponding to half the length of the marriage. If you are married between 15 and 20 years, you could get alimony for 80 percent of the months corresponding to the duration of the marriage. So if you divorce shortly after 15 years, you could receive alimony for approximately 144 months or 12 years. Lifetime alimony awards are only appropriate for marriages that last more than 20 years. The new law generally terminates alimony when the person making alimony payments retires. Again, these are guidelines and not rigid rules.
After your divorce, if your circumstances significantly change, you can petition the court to modify your alimony award. For example, if you are receiving alimony payments and cash a multimillion dollar lottery ticket, the payor can ask the court to terminate his alimony obligation because of your unexpected windfall. If you are the payor and retire, you can ask the court to reduce, suspend or end the alimony payments you've been making. If the alimony recipient moves in with someone else for three months or more, the court can reduce, suspend or terminate alimony payments to the recipient.