Like many Massachusetts laws, the legal rules for alimony – or the legal obligation to provide financial support to a spouse after a divorce – date back to the commonwealth’s earliest days, save for an update in the 1970s.
That changed when Gov. Deval Patrick signed a new bill on alimony on Sept. 26, 2011, that went into effect March 1. The changes to the alimony law is due in large part to Steve Hitner, the president and co-founder of the organization Mass Alimony Reform.
We spoke to Hitner, who is also the president of usdivorcemediation.com, about the drastic changes in alimony laws, and who is affected. Take a look at some of the changes here. Next
“[Alimony was first] mentioned in American history in 1785, in the Massachusetts Constitution, and it was based on English law, where if the man got married, the woman became his property. And even after the divorce, he had to take care of his property,” Hitner said. “And it wasn’t revised in Massachusetts until the 70s, when no-fault divorce [was added], but the other criteria were never revised for the time.” Next
How it used to be: All alimony in Massachusetts was alimony for life.
“The public policy at the time was that the receiving spouse needed to be maintained to the lifestyle of the marriage,” Hitner said. “It didn’t matter about the ability to pay.”
Now: People can terminate their alimony when they reach retirement age so they have time to save money to prepare for retirement.
How it used to be: If the paying spouse got re-married, the receiving spouse could take them back into court to receive an increase in their alimony, based on the second spouse’s income.
Now: If the person who pays alimony gets remarried, their new spouse’s income and assets are not considered in a re-determination of the alimony.
New alimony term limits:
Long term marriages (more than 20 years): Alimony will end at retirement age as defined by the Social Security Act.
5 years or less: Maximum Alimony term is 50% of the number of months of marriage.
10 years or less but greater than 5 years: Maximum Alimony term is 60% of the number of months of marriage.
15 years or less but greater than 10 years: Maximum Alimony term is 70% of the number of months of marriage.
20 years or less but greater than 15 years: Maximum Alimony term is 80% of the number of months of marriage.
How it used to be: Once the person receiving alimony got re-married, their alimony payments would stop. So receivers could live with their new partners while avoiding getting married to continue receiving their alimony payments.
“Let me ask you, if you were getting $50,000 a year in alimony, would you get married?” Hitner asked.
Now: Co-habitation suspends, reduces, or terminates alimony. “If someone co-habitates, they lose their alimony,” Hitner said. Back to the beginning
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