The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently upheld the “non-modifiability” of surviving alimony agreements under the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 (“act”). The case is called Lalchandani v. Roddy.
Specifically, the court in the Lalchandani case cited to Section 4(c) of the act, which prohibits a judge from modifying a surviving alimony obligation: “[u]nder no circumstances shall [the act] provide a right to seek or receive modification of an existing alimony judgment in which the parties have agreed that their alimony judgment is not modifiable, or in which the parties have expressed their intention that their agreed alimony provisions survive the judgment and therefore are not modifiable.”
Surviving alimony agreements retaindependent legal significance upon the entry of a final judgment. They are legal contracts, and cannot be modified by the Probate and Family Court absent extenuating circumstances presented by one party against the other who objects to the proposed modification, or a subsequent, uncontested modification agreement, which both parties sign.
A merger agreement, on the other hand, does not remain dependent legal significance upon its incorporation and merger into a final judgment. Merged agreements can be modified by a judge absent an agreement between the parties upon a party demonstrating to the court a substantial change in circumstances from the time the judge entered the original judgment to the time the judge presides over a final hearing in a modification action.
Section 4(c) of the act, and the holding in the Lalchandani case, uphold the right parties have to enter into binding alimony agreements that will not be modified. The Lalchandani case also clarifies that in situations where the parties have retained the right to modify their agreement, and they at some point after a final judgment choose to exercise that right, the surviving nature of their original agreement will stand. In other words, once the parties characterize their agreement as a surviving agreement, even a subsequent, voluntary agreement between the parties to change the original agreement’s terms will not make a surviving agreement modifiable in the future.