Alimony Modification Limited for Some Long Term Marriages

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) recently decided three alimony cases dealing with divorce agreements/judgments that preceded the date the MA Alimony Reform Act went into effect on March 1, 2012. In all three cases, there was a request to terminate the alimony obligation because the new law changed the payor’s obligation to continue payment of alimony as required under the pre March 1, 2012 divorce agreement/judgment.

The three cases are Chin v. Merriot, Rodman v Rodman and Doktor v. Doktor.

When the Alimony Reform Act went into effect on March 1, 2012, it included a formula for calculating the amount of alimony and also listed durational limits for payment of alimony, based on the length of marriage. There were other considerations for termination/reduction of alimony, such as cohabitation and specific language that the income of a subsequent spouse should not be included in the calculation for the amount of alimony. In addition to defining different types of alimony, the statute also defined the length of marriage as the period of months between the date of marriage and the date one of the spouses was served with the complaint for divorce.

These three recent cases decided by the SJC provide guidance for how attorneys and judges should interpret the “gray” areas of this new alimony law and how to reconcile alimony obligations of divorce agreements/judgments that preceded the March 1, 2012, with the new durational limits of the new alimony statute.

In summary, if your divorce was finalized prior to March 1, 2012 and included an obligation to pay alimony that is modifiable, (ie the alimony obligation did not survive as an independent obligation that is not modifiable by a judge) and the marriage duration was less than twenty years, then the alimony payor can file a request to terminate alimony if payments have been made or will be made for longer than the time limits stated in the new law. However, for marriages that were greater than 20 years and resolved prior to the effective date of the new alimony law of March 1, 2012, then the new law does not apply for automatic termination of alimony and other aspects of the new law. However, if your divorce is final after March 1, 2012 when the new alimony law has been in effect, then the alimony reform act applies to your case no matter how many years you have been married. Unfortunately, these cases create two different standards for marriages over twenty years: those decided before March 1, 2012 and those decided after March 1, 2012. If you are considering a termination or revision to an alimony obligation, it is imperative that you seek legal advice, as this area is complex and ripe for creative solutions.

-Marcia J. Mavrides, Esq.

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