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How reform to Massachusetts alimony laws can impact divorce cases

More than a decade ago, Massachusetts lawmakers made substantial changes to the state’s existing alimony laws. The law determines what happens when one spouse requests financial support from the other at the end of a Massachusetts marriage.

Alimony, also sometimes known as spousal support or spousal maintenance, can be beneficial for the recipient spouse but may be a source of financial strain and frustration for the paying spouse. Reform efforts make it easier to estimate alimony obligations.

How have these shifts, and other recent changes to alimony laws in Massachusetts, altered the financial responsibility that one spouse has to the other after a marriage ends?

There are more reasons to end or reduce alimony

It was once relatively challenging for those subject to alimony orders to convince the family courts to terminate the order prematurely or reduce the amount of support that they had to pay every month. After alimony reform, it has become easier for paying spouses to reduce or terminate their financial obligations. Cohabitation with new romantic partner, not just marriage, is grounds for alimony termination. A judge also has less discretion when ordering alimony, as the state has very clear rules in place. The amount of the order should not exceed the needs of the beneficiaries or 30-35% of the difference between the incomes of the two spouses.

The duration of a Massachusetts alimony order depends on the length of a marriage. If the marriage ended in less than five years, the alimony order can last, at most, 50% of the length of the marriage. If the marriage lasted between six and 10 years, alimony can last for 60% of the duration of the marriage. That increases to 70% for spouses married for between 11 and 15 years. Those married for between 16 and 20 years may have an alimony order that lasts up to 80% of the duration of the marriage. If the couple remained married for over 20 years, then indefinite alimony is possible. Additionally, reform allows anyone subject to an order that does not adhere to current standards to request a modification.

Especially if someone derives their understanding of alimony obligations from the divorce of their parents decades ago, their understanding of what the law requires may not be up to date. Learning about the rules for alimony and other financial obligations related to divorce can benefit those preparing for divorce negotiations.