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Alimony Trends: Not Just Massachusetts

Bay State attorney discusses alimony reform movement in the United States.
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Alimony is increasingly not your mother's - or father's - alimony.

    BOSTON, MA, January 03, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Alimony is increasingly not your mother's - or father's - alimony. Although alimony varies depending on the state, there is an alimony reform movement sweeping the country. Massa chusetts was one of the first states to enact alimony reform, making alimony much more like child support, which is awarded based on a standardized formula that includes the length of the marriage and other measurable factors.

The goal of alimony reform activists - many of whom are men - is to make alimony, also called spousal support in many states, predictable and fair. Horror stories abound of men being required to pay alimony into their retirement years, when their incomes are greatly reduced. Others are forced to file bankruptcy because of seemingly excessive awards that leave them without resources. When judges awarded alimony under the old approach, there were wild differences in amounts and duration that were based only on the luck of the draw - the judge assigned to the case.

However, not only men are pushing for reform. Second wives are also seeking to change alimony laws because they resent having to pay, even indirectly, for the support of their husband's ex. Other women support reform, especially reform based on a formula, because they believe it will protect them while they get back on their feet after divorce.

Is there any reason for alimony reform beyond the desire for predictability and fairness? It turns out there is. A big reason is societal changes that make it possible and even likely that women will earn as much as or more than their husbands. There are far fewer women who never work outside the home than in previous generations, making it much less likely that a divorced woman will be unable to support herself or become impoverished.

Massachusetts' groundbreaking law, passed by the legislature and signed in the fall of 2011, created several types of alimony that depend on the length of the marriage and the financial circumstances of each spouse. It also allows those who pay alimony to change the terms of an alimony award later on - something that was extremely difficult prior to reform. The new law also ends alimony payments when payers retire and stops payments if a recipient becomes involved in a long-term live-in relationship.

Are there downsides to alimony reform? It depends on one's point of view. Some lawyers and judges are concerned that developing formulas removes a judge's ability to take special circumstances into account. Others believe that the new law may result in recipients, especially women, not receiving enough support and ultimately becoming a burden on the state, requiring welfare and food stamps.

How is the new Massachusetts law working after more than a year? Some say that while it's an improvement, the reformed alimony law is still unclear and its language is confusing in several areas. The result, according to some, is that judges either misinterpret the law or ignore it altogether.

One issue that is unclear to many is the prohibition against receiving alimony when the recipient is living with another partner without being married. Does the law apply to those who moved in together after the law took effect in March of 2012? Or does it apply to anyone cohabiting with another, no matter when the arrangement began? Judges do not agree and apply the law differently in different courts throughout the Commonwealth.

In addition to Massachusetts, Colorado has enacted alimony reform, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2014. New York, Connecticut and New Jersey have alimony reform legislation pending. Florida almost enacted a law that restricted lifetime alimony and made other changes, but it was vetoed at the last minute by Gov. Rick Scott. There are alimony reform movements on the ground in many other states. Although it's not perfect, the Massachusetts law has inspired people throughout the United States to seek to change what they view as antiquated and unfairly administered laws.

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Irwin Pollack
Massachusetts Family Law Group

Boston, Massachusetts
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