In Massachusetts, alimony is defined as a payment or series of payments made to an ex-spouse or separated spouse pursuant to a divorce decree or separation agreement. Also known as “spousal support,” alimony’s purpose is to provide financial support to a spouse with lower income or lower income potential.
Even as society modernizes, alimony remains a pivotal component of divorce planning. Questions regarding the amount of alimony, duration, alimony tax consequences, and the ability to modify the order must be resolved before a divorce is finalized.
If there is a prenuptial agreement, that also changes the alimony calculation. Since divorces take a long time, you may need alimony on a temporary basis until there is a final distribution of assets. Or, if you are the higher wage earner, you may be willing to pay alimony for a short duration, but not want to pay forever. All of these alimony considerations are incredibly important.
The purpose of alimony is to ensure that choices made by an intact family do not cause one spouse to benefit to the other’s detriment upon divorce. To the extent possible, one spouse should not suffer because the family chose to have that parent remain at home with the children, take a lesser-paying job, or care for older parents. In short, the decisions the parties made while married have ramifications post-divorce.
For a court to order alimony, the court must find that the potential alimony recipient has need and the potential obligor payor has the ability to pay alimony. There is no exact formula to determine whether a spouse has need or ability to pay—lawyers generally make those arguments to the judge. Judges consider a number of factors when deciding whether to grant alimony and the amount of alimony. The ages of the spouses and the length of the marriage, as well as each person’s income, employability, and earning potential will be reviewed. The judge will decide what each spouse contributed to the marriage, both financially and in other ways.
Rachel Biscardi, Of Counsel at PiltserCowan Law, helped draft the 2011 Alimony Reform Act as a member of the Legislative Alimony Task Force. The Alimony Reform Act, which is now codified as MGL. c. 208 Sections 48-55, provides a framework for durational alimony depending on the length of the parties’ marriage. It also defines different types of alimony, including:
- ”General term alimony”, the periodic payment of support to a recipient spouse who is economically dependent.
- ”Rehabilitative alimony”, the periodic payment of support to a recipient spouse who is expected to become economically self-sufficient by a predicted time, such as, without limitation, reemployment; completion of job training; or receipt of a sum due from the payor spouse under a judgment.
- ”Reimbursement alimony”, 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.
- ”Transitional alimony”, 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.
You should talk to Rachel Biscardi or an alimony lawyer at PiltserCowan Law about what type of alimony may be appropriate in your case.
The alimony law also provides that alimony shall end upon an alimony payor reaching the age of retirement as defined by the Social Security Administration. If you are reaching retirement age and want to talk to an alimony lawyer about ways to end your alimony, you should contact Rachel Biscardi or another alimony lawyer at PiltserCowan Law.
Since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, alimony has become more complicated in Massachusetts. Previous to this law, alimony payors would deduct alimony from their taxes. Lawyers for both parties would collaborate on how to maximize income for the family. Now federal alimony deductibility is a thing of the past. This means that Alimony Reform Act, which provided for alimony orders generally to be 30-35% of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes, needs to be legislatively amended to reflect that alimony is no longer deductible. Until Massachusetts amends the Alimony Reform Act to change the current income guidelines, an alimony lawyer is necessary to argue to the court what amount of alimony is fair in your particular case. If you need to contest alimony amounts, you should contact an alimony lawyer at PiltserCowan Law.