Massachusetts Spousal Support (Alimony)
In Massachusetts, a judge may issue an order for temporary spousal support (alimony) during the course of a divorce. In a final divorce order, the court may also order either spouse to pay spousal support on a permanent basis. Both the amount and duration of a court's alimony award may vary on a case-by-case basis. The court also has a right to order that neither party shall receive alimony payments.
Spouses that wish to enter into a structured divorce settlement may choose to include alimony or waive it — subject to final approval by the court. Since the tax implications of alimony payments are different from that of child support payments, an award of spousal support and its tax implications should be considered in any final divorce settlement.
To schedule an initial consultation with a Massachusetts spousal support lawyer, contact Mavrides Law today. The firm has offices in Boston and Quincy, Massachusetts.
Alimony Determination in Massachusetts
Commencing March 1, 2012, the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 went into effect. Prior to the effective date of this landmark legislation, Massachusetts Judges were not guided by legislation and did not use a uniform formula or method for determining the amount of alimony to be paid or the duration it was required to be paid. With the requirements of this legislation, the Judges are given guidance and a formula for determining alimony in each of the cases before them.
This legislation also identifies different types of alimony: General term alimony, rehabilitative alimony (for no more than 5 years), reimbursement alimony, and transitional alimony (for no more than 3 years).
There are four main types of alimony that can be awarded in a Massachusetts divorce case:
- Rehabilitative alimony: This type of alimony is intended to provide support for a spouse who needs time and resources to become self-sufficient. It is typically awarded for a specific period of time and is intended to help the recipient spouse develop the skills and education needed to support themselves.
- Reimbursement alimony: This type of alimony is intended to reimburse one spouse for financial contributions made to the other spouse during the marriage. It is typically awarded when one spouse has made significant financial sacrifices or contributions during the marriage, such as paying for the other spouse's education or supporting them while they pursue a career.
- Transitional alimony: This type of alimony is intended to provide support for a spouse who is transitioning from the role of a married person to that of a single person. It is typically awarded for a specific period of time, such as a few years, and is intended to help the recipient spouse establish a new home, lifestyle, and support system.
- General term alimony: This type of alimony is intended to provide long-term support for a spouse who is unable to support themselves. It can be awarded for an indefinite period of time and is typically based on the length of the marriage, the income and earning potential of each spouse, and the ability of each spouse to meet their own financial needs.
It's important to note that alimony is not always awarded in a divorce case, and even when it is, the amount and duration of the award can vary widely depending on the specific circumstances of the case. It's important to work with a skilled divorce attorney who can help you understand your rights and the best way to argue for an appropriate alimony award, if applicable.
General Term Alimony:
There are few important points in determining the duration of general term alimony. There is a formula for calculating how many months a spouse may receive general alimony which is based on the length of marriage. The "length" of your marriage is determined by the number of months from the date of your legal marriage to the date of service of the divorce/separate support complaint in your case; not the date of your divorce.
Once issued, general term alimony in Massachusetts shall terminate upon the payor attaining the full retirement age. However, this legislation still gives a judge discretion to set a different alimony termination date or grant an extension for good cause shown.
Cohabitation and Alimony
In Massachusetts, alimony may be terminated or modified if the recipient cohabitates with a new partner for a continuous period of at least 3 months. The court will consider a variety of factors in determining whether cohabitation has occurred and whether it justifies terminating or modifying alimony, including the nature of the relationship, the length of the relationship, and the level of financial interdependence between the parties.
Other issues, such as health insurance coverage and the payment of uninsured health-related expenses, must also be addressed. Access to life and disability insurances of a party and the duration of coverage is usually part of the analysis.
Mavrides Law provides both focused consultation regarding your Massachusetts alimony issue, as well as full analysis of the impact of alimony on division of assets, debt and child support/related issues. Contact us to schedule an appointment.
Palimony or Non-Marital Co-Habitation:
Currently, Massachusetts courts have not recognized any duty to support an unmarried co-habitant and do not recognize common law marriages. However, Massachusetts courts have applied equitable principles to resolve property disputes between former co-habiting individuals, and it may be possible for Massachusetts to give full faith and credit to a common law marriage of another state for parties who have relocated to Massachusetts. This is a complex area of the law, and legal advice must be sought for full analysis of each case and how best to proceed.
Related read: A Massachusetts Prenup Case You Should Know: Dematteo v. Dematteo
In the case of Dematteo vs. Dematteo, the SJC reversed the Probate and Family Court’s decision on the issue of enforceability and Prenuptial Agreement was upheld.
The Facts of Dematteo v Dematteo
Husband and Wife married in 1990 at the ages of 47 and 41. Because the couple had dated years prior, Wife was aware of Husband’s wealth. Similarly, Husband was aware of Wife’s lack of wealth. At the time of their marriage, their financial situations looked like this:
- Husband owned a large stake in his family’s business, along with significant assets, bringing his net worth to over $80 million.
- Wife owned no real property, and made $25,000 per year as a secretary.
Prior to marriage, Husband discussed with Wife the need for a prenuptial agreement. Both Husband and Wife then retained their own attorneys for representation, who began negotiating and drafting the prenuptial agreement. The Probate Court later did not find Husband to be “overbearing” in his request for the prenuptial agreement, but did make note that Husband was “very clear that such an agreement was necessary,” prior to marriage, and that Wife felt rushed.
If you would like to read more about this case in detail, including the terms the parties agreed to in their Massachusetts prenuptial agreement, click here to read our blog: A Case You Should Know: DeMatteo v. DeMatteo
Fast forward eight years later, when Husband filed for divorce. Not surprisingly, he sought enforcement of the prenuptial agreement. After three days of a divorce trial, the Court held that the prenuptial agreement was unenforceable, reasoning that it was “not fair and reasonable at the time of its execution and is not fair and reasonable at the present time, and therefore may not be enforced.”
The Supreme Judicial Court’s Analysis
In reversing the lower Court’s decision, the Supreme Judicial Court implemented the two-step guideline set forth in Osborne v. Osborne, 384 Mass. 591, 598 (1981), elaborating further with a detailed analysis:
Step #1: Was the Agreement Valid?
To answer this question, the Supreme Judicial Court lists three “fair disclosure” rules set forth in the Massachusetts case of Rosenberg v. Lipnick, 377 Mass. 666 (1979).
- Rule No. 1: Were the terms of the prenuptial agreement fair and reasonable to the contesting party at the time of its execution?
- Rule No. 2: Did the contesting party have independent knowledge, or were they fully informed of the other party’s financial status before the agreement was executed (signed)?
- Rule No. 3: Was there a waiver by the party contesting the agreement?
Again, to read the Court’s reasoning on the above, please see our detailed blog on this case.
Step #2: The “Second Look” Analysis: Was the Agreement Fair and Reasonable at the Time of Enforcement?
The analysis of whether or not it is fair and reasonable at the time of the enforcement only exists if the prenuptial agreement is considered to have been fair and reasonable at the time it was executed. The Court cannot conduct the second look analysis without the agreement having passed the first “fair and reasonable” test, first. The lower Court ruled the prenup agreement was invalid at the time it was signed / executed, so it should not have been evaluated at the time of trial.
The SJC took a “second look” at the agreement because it found the agreement to have been fair and reasonable at the time of execution, and therefore enforceable when the parties entered into it. In providing their rationale, the Court stated “[i]n Massachusetts, a valid antenuptial agreement is not unenforceable at the time of divorce merely because its enforcement results in property division or an award of support that a judge might not order…”
While Wife did abandon substantial rights under the Massachusetts divorce law statute by entering into this prenuptial agreement, the fact that the agreement appears to significantly favor the Husband does not equate to Wife being stripped of all marital assets to the degree that the agreement should be considered deemed unenforceable.
This point is important, because it makes clear that even though a prenuptial agreement is “one-sided” is not enough to invalidate it. The Court’s decision noted that unlike other states that have adopted the standard of unconscionability set by the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act (UPAA), the Court “see[s] no reason to replace our standard of ‘fair and reasonableness.’” Massachusetts does not utilize the UPAA for guidance on standard of enforceability of prenuptial agreements.
Ultimately, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that, even though the prenuptial agreement in this case heavily favored the Husband, it was enforceable when it was entered into and at the time of enforcement, because the prenuptial agreement comported with the standards administered under Massachusetts law.
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To speak with a lawyer about a divorce, alimony claim or other family law matter, contact Mavrides Law. For assistance, call 617-723-9900 or contact the firm by email here