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New Massachusetts alimony law took effect on March 1

A few months ago we reported on new Massachusetts laws covering alimony. The law, which was signed by Governor Patrick on Sept. 26, 2011, took effect on March 1. While the intent of the law is to limit permanent alimony and provide guidelines for payments based on the length of a marriage, it also gives judges discretion to deviate from the provisions of the statute. Legal observers will be watching to see if judges consistently grant deviations or instead follow the alimony guidelines.

In marriages lasting less than five years, courts should limit alimony to no more than half of the number of months a couple was married. For those marriages surviving between five and 10 years, the figure should be no more than 60 percent. Similarly, between 10 and 15 years, the figure is intended to be capped at 70 percent, and at 80 percent for marriages between 15 and 20 years. Alimony for marriages longer than 20 years is left to the discretion of the court.

But does the law apply to couples already divorced? The answer depends on the manner in which the divorce occurred originally. If the parties have a separation agreement that indicated it was to survive a judgment of divorce, the alimony terms cannot be changed. However, if a separation agreement was merged in a subsequent judgment of divorce or if a divorce was granted after trial, then any alimony awarded can be changed.

For those seeking to change a prior award of alimony, any application for modification cannot be made prior to March 1, 2013 or, in some cases, as late as Sept. 1, 2015. There are also changes in the new alimony law concerning circumstances where an individual receiving alimony is cohabiting with another for at least three months. In those instances a judge can order a suspension or termination of alimony or direct that a lower amount be paid. Modification applications based on cohabitation issues are not subject to any waiting period before a request can be made.

It appears clear that future alimony awards in Massachusetts will be different. Those facing divorce proceedings would do well to familiarize themselves with the new legislation as it pertains to their circumstances. And those already divorced may well benefit from understanding if and how the new statute pertains to them.

Source: Examiner.com, "Massachusetts' new alimony legislation is now in effect - Boston divorce support," Robin Lynch Nardone, March 2, 2012

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