Spousal Support and Alimony in a Divorce

In Massachusetts, a court can award alimony in a divorce case if it determines that there is a need for support by one spouse in order to continue the standard of living maintained during the marriage and an ability of the other spouse to help meet that need. It is possible if not likely, however, that a divorce will result in a reduced standard of living for both parties and it is then a matter of sharing that reduction equitably.

Major changes to the law of alimony became effective in 2012. Under reform legislation, four types of alimony are now available:

1. General term alimony is the periodic payment of support to a recipient spouse who is economically dependent on a payor spouse.

  • It terminates on the remarriage of the recipient spouse, the death of either spouse, or the payor spouse attaining full retirement age under Social Security (67 for people born after 1959).
  • It can be suspended, reduced, or terminated if the recipient spouse maintains a common household with another person for a continuous period of at least 3 months.
  • It is limited in duration based on the length of the marriage as follows: after a marriage of 5 years or less, 50% of the length of the marriage; after a marriage of between 5 and 10 years, 60% of the length of the marriage; after a marriage of between 10 and years, 70% of the length of the marriage; after a marriage of between 15 and 20 years, 80% of the length of the marriage; after a marriage of more than 20 years, no limit (except as noted above).
  • The amount of general term alimony payments can be modified on a showing of a material change of circumstances.

2. Rehabilitative alimony is the periodic payment of support to a recipient spouse who is expected to become economically self-sufficient by a predicted time such as on reemployment, completion of job training, or receipt of a payment from the payor spouse pursuant to the divorce judgment.

  • It terminates on the remarriage of the recipient spouse, the death of either spouse, or the occurrence of a specified event in the future.
  • It is limited in duration to 5 years, although that period may be extended on a showing of compelling circumstances.
  • The amount of rehabilitative alimony payments can be modified on a showing of a material change of circumstances.

3. Reimbursement alimony is the periodic or one-time payment of support to a recipient spouse after a marriage of not more than 5 years to compensate the recipient spouse for economic or noneconomic contribution to the financial resources of the payor spouse, such as enabling the payor spouse to complete an education or job training.

  • It terminates on the death of the recipient spouse or the occurrence of a specified event in the future.
  • The amount of reimbursement alimony cannot be modified.
  1.  Transitional alimony is the periodic or one-time payment of support to a recipient spouse after a marriage of not more than 5 years to transition the recipient spouse to an adjusted lifestyle or location as a result of the divorce.
  • It terminates on the death of the recipient spouse or the occurrence of a specified event which occurs within 3 years of the date of divorce.
  • The amount and timing of transitional alimony cannot be modified and it cannot later be replaced by another type of alimony.

Except for reimbursement alimony, alimony should generally not exceed the recipient’s need or 30 to 35 per cent of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes at the time the order is established. (For these purposes, gross income does not include unearned income derived from assets assigned to a party pursuant to the divorce or income considered in calculating child support.) In determining the appropriate type, amount, and duration of alimony, the court must consider for following factors: length of .the marriage; age of the parties; health of the parties; income, employment and employability of the parties, including employability through reasonable diligence and additional training, if necessary; economic and non-economic contribution of the parties to the marriage; marital lifestyle; ability of each party to maintain the marital lifestyle; lost economic opportunity as a result of the marriage; and other factors deemed relevant by the court. Notably, the income of a payor spouse’s subsequent spouse is not to be considered Income, nor is income from a second job or overtime if a party work more than a single full-time position or if the second job or overtime began after the entry of the initial order.