The Alimony Reform Act specifies statutory limits for the duration of alimony depending on the length of the marriage. The shorter the marriage, the shorter the duration of an alimony obligation. The length of marriage is defined as the “number of months from the date of legal marriage to the date of service of a complaint or petition for divorce or separate support.” But what happens in the event that there is more than one complaint for divorce, or complaints for support and modification? What becomes the “end date” of the marriage so that one can determine how long the marriage was and, consequently, how long the alimony obligation will last?
The court held that, where there are one or more predivorce-judgment complaints (whether for support, modification, or divorce) that result in a judgment of spousal support, it lies within the judge’s discretion – taking into account the totality of the circumstances – to determine which of these pleadings is to be used to calculate the length of a marriage for purposes of the Alimony Reform Act.
In the Blistreri (https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2018/06/29/17P1107.pdf) case, the parties filed a panoply of complaints over a period of several years. Some of those complaints were for support, some for modification, some for divorce. Only two of the complaints resulted in a judgment of spousal support (as opposed to other complaints which resulted in judgments for other types of support, such as child support or an order to provide medical insurance or medical cost coverage). Of the two complaints, the complaint for modification was filed and served in 2008, and the complaint for divorce, in 2011.
The court also held that, in choosing between two complaints that each could serve as the basis to determine the length of the marriage, the court needs to look at the “totality of circumstances” to determine which end point to choose. The temporal sequence (i.e. which complaint came first) is one factor to be considered, but not necessarily a dispositive factor.
Thus, each time the court determines the length of a marriage when there are two or more complaints, the court would first look at whether one of those complaints resulted in a judgment for spousal support. If more than one judgment did, then the court would look at the totality of the circumstances, on a case-by-case basis, to decide which complaint will serve as the end point of the marriage in order to determine the duration of the payor’s alimony obligation.