In Duval v. Duval (September 23, 2022), the Massachusetts Appeals Court vacated the Probate and Family Court’s decision in a modification action to consider Father’s unallocated support obligation as alimony only and remanded.
The parties had entered into a separation agreement in 2017, which provided that Mother had primary physical custody of the children and Father paid unallocated weekly support to Mother. Father filed a modification action in 2018 to reduce the unallocated support on the basis that both Mother’s income and his parenting time had increased. Following a trial, the Probate and Family Court reduced the unallocated support amount due to Mother’s increase in income, but it did not consider a further reduction due to the change in parenting time, equating the unallocated support to an alimony-only obligation.
The Appeals Court determined that the Probate and Family Court had erred in considering Father’s unallocated support an alimony-only obligation instead of “a hybrid of alimony and child support.” The Appeals Court reasoned that the Probate and Family Court incorrectly concluded that the parties’ separation agreement indicated an intent of the parties to treat the unallocated support as alimony. The separation agreement did not define unallocated support, but in “reading [the applicable exhibit] in its entirety, it is evident that the parties intended the husband’s unallocated support obligation to encompass support for the entire family. The subject matter of [the applicable exhibit] does not pertain solely to alimony.” Further, it held “[t]he context in which the term unallocated support is presented in the separation agreement — surrounded by references to the child support statute and other child support-related matters — signals the parties’ intent for unallocated support to have a child support component.” The Appeals Court also noted that case law and statutes support the hybrid approach to unallocated support.