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How long can someone receive alimony under state law?

The days of lifetime alimony are generally a thing of the past. Women — who have commonly been the recipients of spousal support — are now more likely to be just as well- if not better-educated, than their husbands. They're also likely to have spent a number of years in the workplace, even if they took some time off to have and rear children.

Therefore, when an alimony agreement can't be reached between divorcing spouses and a Massachusetts court has to step in and make the decision, the length of alimony payments generally is based on how long the marriage lasted. State law, however, provides some guidelines:

-- For marriages of 20 years or more, a judge can order alimony for whatever period he or she believes is fair.

-- For marriages that lasted up to 20 years, alimony can't be mandated for more than 80 percent of the total months of the marriage. For example, if a couple was married for 18 years, alimony cannot be ordered for more than about 14 years.

-- For marriages that lasted up to a decade, the maximum length of alimony payments is 60 percent.

-- For marriages that lasted no more than five years, the maximum length of alimony payments is half of the duration of the marriage.

Judges can increase the duration of alimony beyond these limits under a number of circumstances, such as if a person has a "clear and convincing" reason under the law for an extension. This can include some type of change in circumstances that warrants continued payments.

There are also instances in which the person paying alimony can stop the payments. For example, if the recipient remarries or even cohabitates with someone else for at least three months, his or her alimony payments may be stopped. Further, if the person paying the alimony reaches retirement age, he or she may ask to stop paying alimony.

These are state regulations that everyone needs to understand and discuss with their attorney when going through a divorce. However, it's also essential to present any unique circumstances to the court both when negotiating the support agreement and if and when modifications are later sought.

Source: Massachusetts Court System, "How Long Does Alimony Last?," accessed Dec. 29, 2016

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