Rehabilitative Alimony

One of the many changes to the statutes that govern Massachusetts divorce cases was the ability of the court to choose between four (4) types of alimony, in cases in which an order for spousal support is appropriate. The statute does not require that the court select one type of alimony over the other; rather, the court must determine the appropriate form of alimony, if any, based on the facts of the case and after an examination of certain factors identified by the statute. One form of alimony that was codified by the statute is 'rehabilitative alimony.' M.G.L. ch. 208, section 48 defines 'rehabilitative alimony' as follows:

"the periodic payment of support to a recipient spouse who is expected to become economically self-sufficient by a predicted time, such as, without limitation, reemployment; completion of job training; or receipt of a sum due from the payor spouse under a judgment."

Therefore, a judgment or order identifying support payments as 'rehabilitative alimony' should identify a specific event that relates to the recipient spouse's need for alimony. For example, the specific, identifiable event could be the recipient spouse obtaining a certain certification or degree that will allow the recipient spouse to obtain gainful employment and become capable of self-support.

Additionally, the statute, specifically M.G.L. chapter 208, section 50, expounds on the termination, extension and modification. The statute states as follows:

  1. Rehabilitative alimony shall terminate upon the remarriage of the recipient, the occurrence of a specific event in the future or the death of either spouse; provided, however, that the court may require the payor to provide reasonable security for payment of sums due to the recipient in the event of the payor's death during the alimony term.
  2. The alimony term for rehabilitative alimony shall be not more than 5 years. Unless the recipient has remarried, the rehabilitative alimony may be extended on a complaint for modification upon a showing of compelling circumstances in the event that:
    1. unforeseen events prevent the recipient spouse from being self-supporting at the end of the term with due consideration to the length of the marriage;
    2. the court finds that the recipient tried to become self-supporting; and
    3. the payor is able to pay without undue burden.
  3. The court may modify the amount of periodic rehabilitative alimony based upon material change of circumstance within the rehabilitative period.

In accordance with the new alimony statute, rehabilitative alimony is self-terminating, which may be troublesome for the recipient spouse because of the uncertainty of the future self-sufficiency of the recipient spouse. Prior to the enactment of the new alimony statute, the court had the ability to modify rehabilitative alimony order if the recipient spouse's future employment failed to materialize. See Gordon v. Gordon 26 Mass.App.Ct. 973, 974 (1988). With the enactment of the new statute, the recipient spouse must meet a higher legal burden, specifically, "a showing of compelling circumstances," in order to modify a rehabilitative alimony order. Further, the court is permitted to extend rehabilitative alimony only if the court finds that the recipient spouse tried to become self-supporting but unforeseen events prevented the recipient spouse from doing so and that the payor spouse is able to continue to pay spousal support without undue burden. Consequently, a recipient spouse should be aware of the difficultly in modifying a rehabilitative alimony award before entering into an agreement that identifies alimony payments as such.