Alimony Durational Limits Part III — What Happens When I retire?

One of the key reasons that Massachusetts reformed its alimony law in the Alimony Reform Act of 2011, was because many people thought it was unfair that the Court could award “lifetime alimony” in divorce cases.

Alimony payors found lifetime alimony to be unfair because they were required to pay alimony long after they had retired, and had less income than when they were working. Retirees often found themselves living on a fixed income but paying a large alimony obligation based on their former income. However, when retirees approached the Court to lower their alimony payments, it was always uncertain what would happen. On the other hand, the spouse who was receiving alimony often thought it was unfair to cut off alimony just because their former spouse had retired. This was especially true where the recipient spouse had relied on receiving a certain amount of money, and may have bargained for a different settlement if they knew alimony would be lowered or terminated when their former spouse retired. Thus, it was no surprise when the legislature included language in the new alimony statute to address this frequently litigated issue. The law in Massachusetts now provides that in most cases, alimony will terminate when the payor reaches retirement age (which is defined as the payor’s full Social Security eligibility age -you can find that out on the Social Security Administration website, it is based on date of birth). Note that the statute specifically applies the rule to general term alimony, but not to the other three types (see my previous blog “The New Massachusetts Alimony Reform Law of 2011– What Do You Need to Know?” regarding the other types of alimony).

The new law states that a payor’s ability to continue to work after retirement age is not itself a reason to extend alimony. However, at the time of the initial alimony judgment, the Court can order alimony beyond retirement age upon written findings for good cause shown. The Court can also extend alimony beyond retirement age for good cause shown, with a finding of a material change of circumstances and reasons supported by clear and convincing evidence. Post-retirement alimony will most likely be difficult to get, and the circumstances which might warrant an order or extension beyond retirement will have to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Some possible reasons could be the advanced age of the parties at the time of the divorce (i.e. they are close to retirement age or even beyond retirement age at the time of the divorce), the disability of the recipient spouse, or unforeseen significant changes that occur after the divorce. Some judges have been ordering alimony even after the payor reaches their full Social Security eligibility age, if the payor is still working full time and the recipient still has a need for support. Overall, an award of post-retirement alimony is more likely at the time of the Divorce than it is after the Divorce, but in either situation, the Court will have to be persuaded using the applicable standards set by the new law that alimony should be awarded beyond the age of retirement.