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Court Affirms The Extension Of Alimony Obligation Beyond Statutory Durational Limits

In a recent Rule 23 decision, a panel of the Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the lower court’s modification judgment that extended husband’s alimony obligation to his former wife beyond the durational limits set forth in Massachusetts’ Alimony Reform Act (M.G. L. ch. 208, § 49(b)).

The parties in Brosnan v. Brosnan were divorced on May 24, 1994 with the Court’s entry of a Judgment of Divorce Nisi (“Judgment”). Post-divorce, the husband paid alimony to his former wife in various amounts. In October 2018, husband initiated a modification action with the Probate and Family Court, seeking the termination his alimony obligation to wife on the basis that he had paid alimony beyond the durational limit set forth in G.L. c. 208, §49(b). The wife filed a counterclaim seeking to extend husband’s alimony obligation beyond the durational limit due to her health conditions.

After trial, the husband’s alimony obligation was not terminated. Rather, the Probate and Family Court judge entered thirty-three written findings of fact supporting its ruling to extend husband’s alimony obligation to wife beyond the statutory durational limits. Such findings included the fact that wife suffers from Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which prevents her from working and impacts her quality of life; that EDS prevents wife from driving and requires wife to “use a cane, walker, shower chair, and several devices to assist her in getting dressed,” and that “wife cannot provide for her most basic needs without the continued payments of alimony from the husband.” The husband appealed the lower court’s judgment, which ordered the continuation of his alimony obligation to wife in the reduced amount of $150.00/week.

Upon appeal, “[t]he judge’s factual findings must be left undisturbed absent a showing that they are plainly wrong or clearly erroneous.” See Schechter v. Schechter, 88 Mass. App. Ct. 239, 245 (2015). Recognizing that the wife in Brosnan had “testified at length about the effect of her medical condition on her daily activities and also presented the judge with a letter from her primary care physician that detailed her condition and its negative effects on her ability to be gainfully employed,” the lower court’s ruling (to deviate beyond alimony durational limits and extend husband’s alimony to wife) was affirmed. The Court held, “[T]he judge did not err in determining that the wife’s chronic illness requires awarding alimony beyond the durational limits in the interests of justice.”

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