On September 26, the Governor of Massachusetts signed a new law setting limits on alimony and providing guidelines for its determination in divorce proceedings. Previously, judges were permitted to award lifetime alimony regardless of the length of the marriage, a practice that was at odds with most other states. Indeed, the payments were often ordered to continue even after retirement and without regard to circumstances where the former spouse was living with a new partner.
The new law significantly caps alimony by placing limits on the number of years a former spouse can receive payments, based on the length of the marriage. A marriage of five years or less, for instance, could result in an award of alimony up to half of the length of time the couple were actually married. At the other end of the spectrum, a marriage lasting 15 to 20 years could result in an award of alimony of up to 80 percent of the time married.
The law will now end alimony payments upon retirement for most cases, a significant deviation from the old practice which prevented many from entering into retirement at all. Supporters of the new limits feel that the changes provide a safeguard for many men who are unable to modify their spousal support and ultimately end up in financial ruin.
Observers note that many other states do not have specific time limit guidelines for alimony and suggest the Massachusetts law could instigate a national trend. Some believe the law could be unfair to some women who leave their careers to raise a family. Women who have shifted gears to raise their children have sacrificed advances in their careers and salaries; a fact that concerns many legal observers and may not be taken into account with the new changes. Additional concerns are that the new changes in the law may compel some women to remain in abusive marriages longer than they previously would have in order to qualify for higher alimony payments.
While it remains to be seen how the law is interpreted by the courts, it is clear that the intent is to place significant limits on the amount of time that the payments can be ordered.
Source: The New York Times, “Alimony in Massachusetts Gets Overhaul, With Limits,” Jess Bidgood, Sept. 26, 2011