Modifying Alimony Orders of Other States

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.

In most circumstances, where one party still lives in the state that issued the alimony order, the spouse who has moved to Massachusetts will be forced to file an action to modify the order in the issuing state. However, the party who has since moved to Massachusetts may be able to register the Judgment in a Massachusetts Court and commence a modification action here if he or she can prove that Massachusetts has “personal jurisdiction” over the other party. Pursuant to our relevant statutes, G.L. c. 208, §§ 34, 37, when only one party has moved to Massachusetts, a Massachusetts Court has authority to modify a foreign judgment with respect to alimony if it has personal jurisdiction over the other spouse . Personal jurisdiction may be established a number of ways, for example, if the person does business in Massachusetts, has or uses real estate here, or is served with a complaint while within the Commonwealth. Therefore, a payor spouse who resides in Massachusetts, but who was divorced in Pennsylvania, would be able to bring an action in Massachusetts to modify his alimony payments if his former spouse vacations on Cape Cod. But… (and it’s a big “but”), unless the other spouse has “domiciled” in Massachusetts (changed his/her residence to this state), a Massachusetts Court may modify the order “only to the extent it is modifiable or alterable under the laws of such foreign jurisdiction”. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, the fact that our alimony laws have changed in Massachusetts would not provide the parties independent grounds for relief as the laws of the issuing state would continue to govern modification.

In order for a party divorced in another state to be fully subject to the provisions of the Alimony Reform Act, the original alimony order/judgment must be modifiable under the laws of the state that issued the order and both parties must be currently domiciled in Massachusetts. It is only under these unique and specific circumstances that the alimony order may be modified under the laws of the Commonwealth and the Alimony Reform Act would apply as if the original alimony order was issued in Massachusetts.


Fitch Law Partners LLP reports news and insights on complex litigation topics. Clients, colleagues and friends may receive The Fitch Briefs by signing up here.