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DIVORCE: ALIMONY FACTORS IN MASSACHUSETTS

You made the decision to divorce your spouse but your income is far less than your spouse’s income. Your first question will most likely be: will the court give me alimony? Alimony can be one of the most contested issues in a divorce because there is no set way to calculate it like there is for child support. When calculating child support, the court often relies on the Child Support Guidelines to determine the appropriate amount. When it comes to alimony, there are no set guidelines which specify a specific dollar amount that one spouse should pay to the other based on their gross incomes.

Before the court makes an award of alimony, the court must find that you are in need of alimony and that your spouse has the ability to pay alimony. In all cases where alimony is an issue, the court will have to make a determination as to what type of alimony to award, the amount of the payment, and how long the payments should last. The court considers a variety of factors when making this determination including:

  • the length of the marriage;
  • age of the parties;
  • health of the parties;
  • income of the parties;
  • 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;
  • any other factors the court considers to be relevant and material

There are four types of alimony in Massachusetts:

general term alimony,

rehabilitative alimony,

reimbursement alimony,

and transitional alimony.

General term alimony is awarded when one spouse is economically dependent on the other spouse. The length of time you will receive alimony is based on the length of your marriage.

  • If the length of your marriage was 5 years or less, then the alimony would not continue for any longer than one-half the number of months of the marriage.
  • If the length of the marriage was 10 years or less, but more than 5 years, then the alimony would not continue for longer than 60 per cent of the number of months of the marriage.
  • If the length of the marriage was 15 years or less, but more than 10 years, then the alimony would not continue for longer than 70 per cent of the number of months of the marriage.
  • If the length of the marriage was 20 years or less, but more than 15 years, then the alimony shall continue for not longer than 80 per cent of the number of months of the marriage.
  • The court may order alimony for an indefinite length of time for any marriage which was longer than 20 years.

Rehabilitative alimony are payments intended to help the recipient spouse become financially independent. This type of alimony payment cannot last longer than five years. It is often awarded in cases where one spouse is seeking re-employment, pursuing their degree, or is completing job training which will allow them to become self-sufficient.

Reimbursement alimony is generally a one-time alimony payment, but can also consist of payments over a short period of time, meant to reimburse the recipient spouse for his or her financial contribution to the other spouse during the court of the marriage as long as the marriage lasted less than five years. This type of alimony is typical in marriages where one spouse works to put the other spouse through specialized schooling. For example, if Jane works two jobs during the course of her four-year marriage to pay for John’s education to allow him to focus on medical school and graduate debt free, John would have to reimburse Jane for her contribution since John will have received the benefit of all Jane’s work once he is a doctor.

Transitional alimony is also generally a one-time alimony payment, but can also consist of payments over a short period of time, intended to help the recipient spouse adjust to their new lifestyle or a new location. This type of alimony is also only available for marriages where the marriage lasted less than five years. For example, Diane and Mike get married. Prior to the marriage, Diane worked part time at a convenience store. Mike, on the other hand, earned seven figures at an investment company. Mike used his income to provide Diane with a lavish lifestyle over the course of their two-year marriage. When they divorce, the court can order Mike to make a one-time alimony payment to help Diane adjust to her new lower standard of living post-divorce.

Excluding calculations for reimbursement alimony, the court will not order alimony beyond what the recipient needs and should not exceed 30 to 35 per cent of the difference between the parties' gross incomes. This leaves great discretion to the judge in your case when he/she determines the type of alimony to be paid, the amount of alimony to be paid, and the length of time the alimony should be paid.

After alimony has been awarded, life circumstances often change. You may find yourself seeking to remarry, cohabitating, or maybe your ex has passed away. All these factors can impact whether your alimony award can be terminated or modified.

There are a variety of factors that come into play when the court is determining alimony and when the court is determining whether alimony should be terminated, modified, or extended. Contact us at Sweeney & Associates today for a free consultation to discuss your alimony questions or any other family law issues you have. We can be reached at (617) 328-6900 or mail@rsweeneylaw.com.

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