Understanding General Term Alimony

While divorce is the legal dissolution of a marriage, divorce may include the order of support for one party to pay the other. Alimony, also known as spousal support, is payment of support from one spouse who has the ability to pay, to the other spouse who has a need for financial support for a reasonable length of time.

Alimony is not always awarded in a divorce; rather alimony depends on the financial circumstances of the spouses. Massachusetts law provides that general term alimony should not exceed the recipient spouse's need or 30% to 35% of the difference in income between the spouses. Under Massachusetts law, a Probate and Family Court Judge may look at a number of factors when deciding whether alimony is appropriate in a particular case, and if it is appropriate, the amount and duration of payments. These factors include but are not limited to the following:

  • Length of the marriage;
  • Age and well being of each spouse;
  • Income of each spouse;
  • Current employment and future employability of each spouse;
  • Economic and non-economic contributions to the marriage by each spouse;
  • Lifestyle and standard of living when married; and
  • Lost economic opportunities as a result of the marriage.

If the parties have unemancipated children, it is important to remember that when establishing an alimony award, the Judge shall not include in the alimony calculation income that has already been considered in setting a child support order. However, there are situations where the judge can use their discretion to award both alimony and child support depending on the specifics of the case.  Also, it is important to consider the tax ramifications of each payment; specifically, that alimony payments are taxable income to the recipient and tax deductible to the payor, while child support is tax-free income to the recipient and taxable income for the payor.  I suggest that you communicate with an experienced family law attorney to determine whether alimony and child support is appropriate in your particular case.

In terms of the duration of alimony, Massachusetts law sets forth presumptive time limits for orders of general term alimony, based upon the length of the marriage. For marriages of 20 years of more, it is presumed that alimony will continue until the earliest to occur of either party’s death, the recipient’s remarriage or the payor reaching full Social Security retirement age. For marriages of less than 20 years, the statute outlines the presumptive termination date for alimony payments.  At the time of the issuance of an alimony order, if a party argues that deviation from the statutory durational limit is appropriate, that parties is required to present to the Court a showing of good cause for said deviation. After the divorce, if a party is seeking to extend the duration of an existing alimony order, by the filing of a Complaint for Modification, there is an additional burden on the party seeking the extension, in it requires good cause shown and written findings of a material change in circumstances and of reasons for the extension supported by clear and convincing evidence.  (Reform Act, G. L. c. 208, § 49).

Comments are closed.