Massachusetts Limits Alimony, Broadens Marriage Options

Tennis champ Christ Evert, real-estate tycoon Donald Trump, and pop star Jennifer Lopez can sleep a little easier on their money-stuffed mattresses. New limits on alimony payments have been signed into law preventing divorced spouses from forever cashing in.

For now, the new legislation is restricted to the state of Massachusetts. But, the changes draw attention to the long-overdue overhaul of the family law system.

Monday, Gov. Deval Patrick signed a law that allows ex-husbands and ex-wives from paying alimony to their spouse once they retire. In addition, the new law sets new limits—that correspond to the length of the marriage—on the number years a person can receive alimony payments from a spouse.

So far, there are equal nods of approval as shakes in dissent.

Steve Hitner, president of Massachusetts Alimony Reform, said to the New York Times of previous, extreme alimony payments, “It put a lot of people in the poorhouse.”

Hitner, whose grass-roots group supports mainly alimony-paying men, continued, “It made people never able to retire.”

However, others worry the new law will unfairly target or punish women who leave the workforce to become full-time mothers.

Wendy Murphy, an adjunct law professor at New England Law of Boston, said to the New York Times, “It’s arbitrary to have cutoff periods that effectively make it harder for that opportunity loss to be valued in the divorce.”

Meanwhile, with or without the new law on your side, when making trial preparations for an alimony case, consider the American Bar Association’s article by Thomas C. Ries.

Ries advises lead cousel to:

  • Determine your client’s actual needs via a monthly budget or expense list.
  • Remember that alimony is not a “wish list” rather payment for credible expenses.
  •  Proving your client’s lifestyle through photographs of the marital home and furnishings, jewelry, or family vacations taken over the years.
  •  Remember tax issues, because if you represent the payee, the income tax consequences of deductible alimony payments must be presented to the court.
  •  Prepare a closing argument supported by the evidence and the law, not pomp.

In many states, in addition to the previous Massachusetts system, judges can award lifelong alimony after both short and long marriages and will often require payments to continue post-retirement or even after an alimony-receiving spouse has moved in with a new partner.

Alimony payments follow you the same way emotional burdens from divorce haunt you for life.

At least now, in one state, regardless of your wealth or sexual orientation, a person must no longer fear unfair and inequitable divisions of assets.

-WB

 

Read more at: Bidgood, Jess. “Alimony in Massachusetts Gets Overhaul, With Limits,” New York Times: September 26, 2011. [LINK: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/27/us/massachusetts-curbs-lifetime-alimony-payments.html?_r=2&emc=tnt&tntemail1=y]

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