Modifications to Alimony Payments in Massachusetts
Several circumstances may require a former spouse to request a modification to an alimony order. Some of them include:
- the reduction or cessation of the income of the paying spouse (e.g., economic difficulties or loss of job not deliberately caused by the paying spouse)
- remarriage or cohabitation of the recipient spouse for a continuous period of at least 3 months
- retirement of the paying spouse
- financial independence of the recipient spouse
- the lifespan of the alimony order
The Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011 provides instances where alimony payments outside of child support can be reduced or terminated.
This article will explain the different conditions to be fulfilled and the procedure to obtain such an order. However, it is better to involve a Massachusetts family and divorce lawyer to avoid complications or a dismissal of the request.
Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Massachusetts
Alimony is basically providing support for an economically dependent ex-spouse. The judge may grant alimony to aid the recipient spouse’s transition to the post-divorce life. Alimony may also be granted to ensure the dependent spouse is well catered for or to compensate them for their contributions to the life and economic well-being of the paying spouse.
The Alimony Reform Act (ARA) contains some of the factors or circumstances that may affect the payment, amount, and duration of alimony (more explanations below).
However, the two principal factors for an order of alimony to be granted include:
- That the demanding spouse is economically dependent and in need of spousal support
- That the paying spouse has the ability to pay (based on his income)
Factors that Affect the Payment of Spousal Support
There are a number of factors that may influence the Judge to award the payment or the amount of alimony to be paid. Some of the factors that the court will consider when making an alimony order include:
- Distribution of assets
- The length of the marriage
- The ability of the paying spouse to afford the alimony
- A prenuptial agreement
- The agreement of parties (Divorce Settlement/Separation Agreement)
- The marital lifestyle of the spouses
- Employability of the recipient spouse
- The health of the parties
- Income or earning capabilities of the paying spouse
- Length of the marriage
How to Modify Alimony Payments
An alimony order may be modified by a request from a former spouse by filing a Complaint for Modification. If you signed a divorce settlement agreement and the agreement does not contain a clause that prohibits modification, it can be modified by the agreement of both spouses.
Under the ARA, a spouse may request a modification of the alimony order where there has been a material change of circumstances since the time that the alimony order was made. Alimony orders intended for transitional, or reimbursement purposes are fixed and may not be modified. But the general term and rehabilitative alimony payments can be reduced.
If the court finds that there is reasonable justification to reduce the alimony payments, the request for modification will be granted to take effect immediately or at a later date. Modifications may also be directed to be for a specific period or permanent.
Will capital asset disposal be a reason to request a reduction of alimony?
There are different complications that can arise in a request for reduction of alimony if the request is based on the sale of an asset or business.
In Dolan v. Dolan, the Norfolk Probate & Family Court found that although the sale of a business by a self-employed paying spouse was economically justifiable, it was nonetheless a source of payment for alimony. Thus, it ordered the husband to keep up with the payments for two years and thereafter pay a reduced amount.
Duration for Payment of Alimony in Massachusetts
The duration or length of a marriage is calculated from the date of marriage to the date on which the divorce summons was served on the other spouse. The following calculations are applicable for alimony calculations:
|Duration of Marriage||Alimony Payable|
|up to 5 years||Maximum of half the number of months of the marriage|
|5 up to 10 years||Maximum of 60% of the number of months of the marriage|
|10 up to 15 years||Maximum of 70% of the number of months of the marriage|
|15 up to 20 years||Maximum of 80% of the number of months of the marriage|
|20 or more years||Indefinite (or till retirement of the paying spouse)|
When Can I Stop Paying Alimony?
Certain events may justify the termination of alimony payments. For instance, your retirement or remarriage of your former spouse is a good reason to request termination of an alimony order.
However, the court may also consider the effects of termination on the recipient spouse before vacating the order. In Rudolph Pierce v. Carnegie Pierce, the Judge granted a reduction in alimony instead of a termination when the husband filed a Complaint for Modification based on his retirement.
You may also stop paying spousal support if the period stipulated in the alimony order or divorce agreement has elapsed. The death of either spouse will automatically terminate spousal support (unless the Judge decides otherwise).