From a legal perspective, getting hitched in Massachusetts is fairly quick and simple, requiring little more than a valid marriage license and a proper officiant. It is not even necessary to be wed by a clergy member or Justice of the Peace, as anyone over the age of 18 in reasonably good character can receive a one-day designation to solemnize the marriage. Divorce, on the other hand, is rarely if ever as easy or efficient, and contested proceedings take months and even years to finalize.
Since the enactment of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 (the "Act"), alimony awards once considered ambiguous or lifetime entitlements are now subject to specific, durational time limits based upon the length of the parties' marriage. But, under what circumstances might such durational limits be extended? In a recent decision, a Probate and Family Court (Hampshire Division) judge has ruled that a former husband's obligation to pay alimony to his disabled former wife shall continue beyond durational limits. Barcalow v. Barcalow (Lawyers Weekly No. 15-003-12.) In the Barcalow case, the parties were married for approximately 6 years, 2 months (or 74 months). By the terms of the Act, if the duration of the marriage is 10 years or less, but more than 5 years, general term alimony shall be no greater than 60 percent of the number of months of the marriage. G.L. c. 208, § 49(b). Following passage of the Act and more than 7-years post divorce, Mr. Barcalow filed a Complaint for Modification, seeking to terminate his alimony obligation to his former wife based, in part, upon the fact that his obligation exceeded the Act's durational limit.
The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 provides for alimony to presumptively terminate when a payor reaches full retirement age unless a Court finds that a material change in circumstances has occurred and there is clear and convincing evidence to support an extension of the payments. While appellate courts have yet to rule as to what facts and circumstances may justify such an extension, at least one trial court has found that the ability of a wealthy former spouse to continue to pay support after reaching full retirement age is not, in and of itself, sufficient to justify an extended alimony order.
In a recent Appeals Court case of Hassey v. Hassey, a provision in a divorce judgment requiring a husband to pay thirty percent of his anticipated future gross income to his former wife was struck down as inconsistent with the terms of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011.
The enactment of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011, which went into effect March 1, 2012, was hailed as the most dramatic reform in family law in decades. The sweeping new law effectively ended the reign of lifetime alimony in Massachusetts, tying the length of time that a former spouse could be ordered to pay "general term" alimony (traditional alimony paid to an economically dependent spouse) to the length of the marriage in marriages of 20 years or less, and to hard limits of three years for "transitional alimony" (paid to help a spouse adjust to the change in lifestyle or location after divorce) and five years for "rehabilitative alimony" (intended to assist a recipient spouse in the short term who is expected to become self-supporting by a specific time). The Act further provides for the termination of alimony upon the payor reaching full retirement age or the recipient's remarriage.
Following what is described as a comprehensive review of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Task Force, the Chief Justice of Massachusetts Trial Court released new Child Support Guidelines that became effective on August 1, 2013. In the Trial Court's June 20, 2013 Press Release, it is noted that these revised Guidelines, which supersede any previous Guidelines, are intended to take into consideration current economic realities facing families in Massachusetts.
With the enactment of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011, almost every former spouse with an alimony order has questioned whether he or she may be subject to the relief from, or the loss of, support payments under the new law. While the provisions of the Act clearly apply to parties who were divorced in Massachusetts and continue to reside here, former spouses who were divorced in another state, but have since moved to Massachusetts, are also wondering about the impact of Massachusetts alimony reform.