Lifetime Alimony Awards
Spousal support in the form of alimony payments to an ex-spouse are often one of the most hotly contested issues in a divorce. The stakes can get very high in states where judges are permitted to award lifetime alimony payments, as in Massachusetts, where lawmakers recently drafted Bill S 665 in an attempt to change the state’s lifetime alimony laws.
Massachusetts is one of the last states that still allows lifetime alimony awards and current economic recession has given the topic new priority as many struggling alimony payers found they could not afford to make their payments. However, current Massachusetts law does not contain any provision that allows judges to go back and revise alimony payments after the fact. The current laws also allow a former spouse to return to court to get more alimony years after a divorce has been finalized. Alimony payments to an ex-spouse living with someone else would also be terminated under the new proposal as well. Moving forward, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary will hear testimony on the proposed changes that would end lifetime alimony payments and limit award amounts.
If approved, Bill S 665 will set guidelines that would base alimony payments on the length of a marriage. Persons married five years or less would receive alimony payments for half of the number of months of the marriage. Those married 10 to 15 years would receive payments for 60 to 70 percent of the number of months the couple was married. Marriages ending at the 15 to 20 year mark would trigger payments for 80 percent of the number of months the marriage lasted. Marriages lasting longer than 20 years would revert back to the old alimony system where the judge would have the power to determine the duration of payments.
The bill is the result of a year-long collaborative effort by legislators, lawyers and judges, as well as representatives from the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Although previous attempts to change the alimony laws have failed in the sate, with over 130 co-sponsors, Bill S 665 looks like it may have a chance of becoming law. And because the new bill does not affect current Massachusetts laws governing child support payments or child custody, it avoids that potential hornet’s nest of controversy.
The fact that Massachusetts judges in divorce courts often awarded lifetime alimony in cases involving both long- and short-term marriages was the real hot button that got the reform movement going. Cases where lifetime alimony was awarded after a 4-year marriage dissolved seemed a bit excessive to nearly everyone except perhaps the person receiving the payments. Some felt it was an outdated approach that originated back in the days before women entered the workforce and instead stayed home and raised children. Today, the Massachusetts judiciary is waking up to the fact that both spouses will most likely have jobs and there is no need for one to carry the other for a lifetime.