The “New” Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011 – what do you need to know?

Massachusetts recently introduced sweeping reforms to the law governing spousal support with the Alimony Reform Act.

While Massachusetts previously had alimony laws, before the new Act took effect different judges applied the law differently from case to case, making the process an uncertain one for the parties and their lawyers. The new law is an attempt to provide more consistency so that parties can be better informed about their options as well as potential outcomes when they go to Court.

The Massachusetts Alimony Reform act establishes four different types of alimony:

  1. General Term Alimony – this is the most common and basic type of alimony as it is simply the periodic payment of support to an economically dependent spouse.
  2. Rehabilitative Alimony – This is alimony paid to a spouse who needs support until they “rehabilitate” themselves to become economically independent.  For example while the spouse completes school or a training program so they can get a job.
  3. Reimbursement Alimony – This type of alimony is to help “pay back” the spouse who supported the other during the marriage to allow that spouse to become successful; for example a spouse who supported the other during medical school.  The now well-paid doctor can make a lump sum or periodic payment of alimony to the spouse who helped them get through school.  This type of alimony can only be used however, if the marriage was five years or less.
  4. Transitional Alimony – This alimony is similar to rehabilitative alimony, but it is used to help the recipient spouse adjust to a different lifestyle or location which is caused by the divorce.  For example, if a couple relocated from Chicago to Massachusetts for a job opportunity, but after the divorce the other spouse wants to return to Chicago, transitional alimony could allow them to relocate, establish a home, and transition them as they readjust to their new lifestyle.  This type of alimony also can only be used when a marriage lasts less than five years.

Each type of alimony has its own exacting set of criteria and corresponding responsibilities.The new law is meant to clarify what form the alimony should take in a given case, but there are still uncertainties as the courts interpret the new law and apply it to different cases.  For now, in applying the alimony law to a particular case, we have to rely on the wording of the new law, and our day to day experience with our cases and in the courts.  If you are concerned about alimony, either because you have an existing alimony order, you may be paying alimony, or you may be seeking alimony, be sure to consult an attorney about the new Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act and how it may apply to you and your case. For more information about the new law, go to The Massachusetts General Laws on Divorce.

In future blogs I will be addressing some specific parts of the new alimony statute, including how long alimony should be paid, the relationship between alimony and child support, and what effect retirement or cohabitation can have on alimony.  Stay tuned!