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  • Acts
  • 2011
  • Chapter 124 AN ACT REFORMING ALIMONY IN THE COMMONWEALTH.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same as follows:

SECTION 1. The first sentence of section 34 of chapter 208 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2008 Official Edition, is hereby amended by adding the following words:- under sections 48 to 55, inclusive.

SECTION 2. Said section 34 of said chapter 208, as so appearing, is hereby further amended by striking out the third sentence and inserting in place thereof the following sentence:- In fixing the nature and value of the property, if any, to be so assigned, the court, after hearing the witnesses, if any, of each of the parties, shall consider the length of the marriage, the conduct of the parties during the marriage, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties, the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income, and the amount and duration of alimony, if any, awarded under sections 48 to 55, inclusive.

SECTION 3. Said chapter 208 is hereby further amended by adding the following 8 sections:-

Section 48. As used in sections 49 to 55, inclusive, the following words shall, unless the context requires otherwise, have the following meanings:-

"Alimony", the payment of support from a spouse, who has the ability to pay, to a spouse in need of support for a reasonable length of time, under a court order.

"Full retirement age", the payor's normal retirement age to be eligible to receive full retirement benefits under the United States Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program; but shall not mean "early retirement age," as defined under 42 U.S.C. 416, if early retirement is available to the payor or maximum benefit age if additional benefits are available as a result of delayed retirement.

"General term alimony", the periodic payment of support to a recipient spouse who is economically dependent.

"Length of the marriage", the number of months from the date of legal marriage to the date of service of a complaint or petition for divorce or separate support duly filed in a court of the commonwealth or another court with jurisdiction to terminate the marriage; provided, however, that the court may increase the length of the marriage if there is evidence that the parties' economic marital partnership began during their cohabitation period prior to the marriage.

"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.

Section 49. (a) General term alimony shall terminate upon the remarriage of the recipient or the death of either spouse; provided, however, that the court may require the payor spouse to provide life insurance or another form of reasonable security for payment of sums due to the recipient in the event of the payor's death during the alimony term.

(b) Except upon a written finding by the court that deviation beyond the time limits of this section are required in the interests of justice, if the length of the marriage is 20 years or less, general term alimony shall terminate no later than a date certain under the following durational limits:

(1) If the length of the marriage is 5 years or less, general term alimony shall continue for not longer than one-half the number of months of the marriage.
(2) If the length of the marriage is 10 years or less, but more than 5 years, general term alimony shall continue for not longer than 60 per cent of the number of months of the marriage.
(3) If the length of the marriage is 15 years or less, but more than 10 years, general term alimony shall continue for not longer than 70 per cent of the number of months of the marriage.
(4) If the length of the marriage is 20 years or less, but more than 15 years, general term alimony shall continue for not longer than 80 per cent of the number of months of the marriage.

(c) The court may order alimony for an indefinite length of time for marriages for which the length of the marriage was longer than 20 years.

(d) General term alimony shall be suspended, reduced or terminated upon the cohabitation of the recipient spouse when the payor shows that the recipient spouse has maintained a common household, as defined in this subsection, with another person for a continuous period of at least 3 months.

(1) Persons are deemed to maintain a common household when they share a primary residence together with or without others. In determining whether the recipient is maintaining a common household, the court may consider any of the following factors:

(i) oral or written statements or representations made to third parties regarding the relationship of the persons;
(ii) the economic interdependence of the couple or economic dependence of 1 person on the other;
(iii) the persons engaging in conduct and collaborative roles in furtherance of their life together;
(iv) the benefit in the life of either or both of the persons from their relationship;
(v) the community reputation of the persons as a couple; or
(vi) other relevant and material factors.

(2) An alimony obligation suspended, reduced or terminated under this subsection may be reinstated upon termination of the recipient’s common household relationship; but, if reinstated, it shall not extend beyond the termination date of the original order.

(e) Unless the payor and recipient agree otherwise, general term alimony may be modified in duration or amount upon a material change of circumstances warranting modification. Modification may be permanent, indefinite or for a finite duration, as may be appropriate. Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit alimony reinstatement after the recipient's remarriage, except by the parties' express written agreement.

(f) Once issued, general term alimony orders shall terminate upon the payor attaining the full retirement age. The payor's ability to work beyond the full retirement age shall not be a reason to extend alimony, provided that:

(1) When the court enters an initial alimony judgment, the court may set a different alimony termination date for good cause shown; provided, however, that in granting deviation, the court shall enter written findings of the reasons for deviation.
(2) The court may grant a recipient an extension of an existing alimony order for good cause shown; provided, however, that in granting an extension, the court shall enter written findings of:

(i) a material change of circumstance that occurred after entry of the alimony judgment; and
(ii) reasons for the extension that are supported by clear and convincing evidence.

Section 50. (a) Rehabilitative alimony shall terminate upon the remarriage of the recipient, the occurrence of a specific event in the future or the death of either spouse; provided, however, that the court may require the payor to provide reasonable security for payment of sums due to the recipient in the event of the payor's death during the alimony term.

(b) The alimony term for rehabilitative alimony shall be not more than 5 years. Unless the recipient has remarried, the rehabilitative alimony may be extended on a complaint for modification upon a showing of compelling circumstances in the event that:

(1) unforeseen events prevent the recipient spouse from being self-supporting at the end of the term with due consideration to the length of the marriage;
(2) the court finds that the recipient tried to become self-supporting; and
(3) the payor is able to pay without undue burden.

(c) The court may modify the amount of periodic rehabilitative alimony based upon material change of circumstance within the rehabilitative period.

Section 51. (a) Reimbursement alimony shall terminate upon the death of the recipient or a date certain.

(b) Once ordered, the parties shall not seek and the court shall not order a modification of reimbursement alimony.

(c) Income guidelines in subsection (b) of section 53 shall not apply to reimbursement alimony.

Section 52. (a) Transitional alimony shall terminate upon the death of the recipient or a date certain that is not longer than 3 years from the date of the parties' divorce; provided, however, that the court may require the payor to provide reasonable security for payment of sums due to the recipient in the event of the payor's death during the alimony term.

(b) No court shall modify or extend transitional alimony or replace transitional alimony with another form of alimony.

Section 53. (a) In determining the appropriate form of alimony and in setting the amount and duration of support, a court shall consider: the length of the marriage; age of the parties; health of the parties; income, employment and employability of both parties, including employability through reasonable diligence and additional training, if necessary; economic and non-economic contribution of both 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 such other factors as the court considers relevant and material.

(b) Except for reimbursement alimony or circumstances warranting deviation for other forms of alimony, the amount of alimony should generally not exceed the recipient's need or 30 to 35 per cent of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes established at the time of the order being issued. Subject to subsection (c), income shall be defined as set forth in the Massachusetts child support guidelines.

(c) When issuing an order for alimony, the court shall exclude from its income calculation:

(1) capital gains income and dividend and interest income which derive from assets equitably divided between the parties under section 34; and
(2) gross income which the court has already considered for setting a child support order.

(d) Nothing in this section shall limit the court's discretion to cast a presumptive child support order under the child support guidelines in terms of unallocated or undifferentiated alimony and child support.

(e) In setting an initial alimony order, or in modifying an existing order, the court may deviate from duration and amount limits for general term alimony and rehabilitative alimony upon written findings that deviation is necessary. Grounds for deviation may include:

(1) advanced age; chronic illness; or unusual health circumstances of either party;
(2) tax considerations applicable to the parties;
(3) whether the payor spouse is providing health insurance and the cost of health insurance for the recipient spouse;
(4) whether the payor spouse has been ordered to secure life insurance for the benefit of the recipient spouse and the cost of such insurance;
(5) sources and amounts of unearned income, including capital gains, interest and dividends, annuity and investment income from assets that were not allocated in the parties divorce;
(6) significant premarital cohabitation that included economic partnership or marital separation of significant duration, each of which the court may consider in determining the length of the marriage;
(7) a party's inability to provide for that party’s own support by reason of physical or mental abuse by the payor;
(8) a party's inability to provide for that party’s own support by reason of that party's deficiency of property, maintenance or employment opportunity; and
(9) upon written findings, any other factor that the court deems relevant and material.

(f) In determining the incomes of parties with respect to the issue of alimony, the court may attribute income to a party who is unemployed or underemployed.

(g) If a court orders alimony concurrent with or subsequent to a child support order, the combined duration of alimony and child support shall not exceed the longer of: (i) the alimony or child support duration available at the time of divorce; or (ii) rehabilitative alimony beginning upon the termination of child support.

Section 54. (a) In the event of the payor's remarriage, income and assets of the payor's spouse shall not be considered in a redetermination of alimony in a modification action.

(b) Income from a second job or overtime work shall be presumed immaterial to alimony modification if:

(1) a party works more than a single full-time equivalent position; and
(2) the second job or overtime began after entry of the initial order.

Section 55. (a) The court may require reasonable security for alimony in the event of the payor's death during the alimony period. Security may include, but shall not be limited to, maintenance of life insurance.

(b) Orders to maintain life insurance shall be based upon due consideration of the following factors: age and insurability of the payor; cost of insurance; amount of the judgment; policies carried during the marriage; duration of the alimony order; prevailing interest rates at the time of the order; and other obligations of the payor.

(c) A court may modify orders to maintain security upon a material change of circumstance.

SECTION 4. (a) Section 49 of chapter 208 of the General Laws shall apply prospectively, such that alimony judgments entered before March 1, 2012 shall terminate only under such judgments, under a subsequent modification or as otherwise provided for in this act.

(b) Sections 48 to 55, inclusive, of said chapter 208 shall not be deemed a material change of circumstance that warrants modification of the amount of existing alimony judgments; provided, however, that existing alimony judgments that exceed the durational limits under section 49 of said chapter 208 shall be deemed a material change of circumstance that warrant modification.

Existing alimony awards shall be deemed general term alimony. Existing alimony awards which exceed the durational limits established in said section 49 of said chapter 208 shall be modified upon a complaint for modification without additional material change of circumstance, unless the court finds that deviation from the durational limits is warranted.

(c) Under no circumstances shall said sections 48 to 55, inclusive, of said chapter 208 provide a right to seek or receive modification of an existing alimony judgment in which the parties have agreed that their alimony judgment is not modifiable, or in which the parties have expressed their intention that their agreed alimony provisions survive the judgment and therefore are not modifiable.

SECTION 5. Any complaint for modification filed by a payor under section 4 of this act solely because the existing alimony judgment exceeds the durational limits of section 49 of chapter 208 of the General Laws, may only be filed under the following time limits:

(1) Payors who were married to the alimony recipient 5 years or less, may file a modification action on or after March 1, 2013.

(2) Payors who were married to the alimony recipient 10 years or less, but more than 5 years, may file a modification action on or after March 1, 2014.

(3) Payors who were married to the alimony recipient 15 years or less, but more than 10 years, may file a modification action on or after March 1, 2015.

(4) Payors who were married to the alimony recipient 20 years or less, but more than 15 years, may file a modification action on or after September 1, 2015.

SECTION 6. Notwithstanding clauses (1) to (4) of section 5 of this act, any payor who has reached full retirement age, as defined in section 48 of chapter 208 of the General Laws, or who will reach full retirement age on or before March 1, 2015 may file a complaint for modification on or after March 1, 2013.

SECTION 7. This act shall take effect on March 1, 2012.

Approved, September 26 , 2011.