The length of a marriage is definitely one of the factors that heavily impacts divorce awards in Massachusetts. But that does not necessarily mean there is a specific amount of time you must be married before one spouse “earns” or is “entitled to” alimony.
Courts have considerable discretion when deciding questions about alimony, so it is essential to have your divorce lawyer present facts favorable to your interests, whether you are seeking alimony or arguing against it.
Understanding Alimony Definitions
Alimony is defined in Massachusetts law as the “payment of support from a spouse who has the ability to pay to a spouse in need of support.” Ability and need are the critical factors mentioned. The definition further specifies that alimony payments should continue for a “reasonable time” which indicates that lawmakers did not intend alimony to be permanent in many cases.
The statutes define four distinct types of alimony. Two of these are payable only in marriages of five years or less, so clearly lawmakers anticipated that alimony might be appropriate in some situations where a marriage did not last decades.
However, it is important to note that the section defining “length of marriage” gives the court discretion to consider a couple married for longer than the time between the wedding and filing for divorce. If the parties began an “economic marital partnership” while they were living together before officially getting married, the time of their partnership can be added to the length of their marriage for purposes of assessing alimony. That means that if a couple were married for three years but lived together for eight years before getting married, the court could treat their marriage as lasting 11 years.
Alimony Length Limits
While Massachusetts laws do not set a specific limit on the length of time a couple must be married before a spouse can receive alimony, the laws do limit the amount of time alimony can continue, and those limits are based on the length of the marriage. General term or basic alimony should not be awarded for longer than:
- 50% of the length of the marriage if a couple was married five years or less
- 60% of the length of the marriage if a couple was married for 5-10 years
- 70% of the length of the marriage if a couple was married 10-15 years
- 80% of the length of the marriage if a couple was married 15-20 years
If a marriage lasted longer than 20 years, the law specifically gives judges discretion to order alimony for an indefinite time, which could amount to permanent alimony.
Remember that these limits set maximums and not minimums. In many cases, particularly in marriages of shorter length, the court might award some additional marital property to a lower earning spouse and skip alimony entirely.
A Dedicated Divorce Lawyer Can Protect Your Interests When it Comes to Alimony
Courts will look at a number of factors before deciding whether one spouse is in need and the spouse has the ability to pay alimony. Judges will work toward a fair result, but they can only make decisions based on the information the parties provide.
If you are trying to obtain alimony or trying to limit or prevent an award of alimony, make sure your divorce lawyer presents all the facts that show why your goals are fair under the circumstances. At Koiles Pratt Family Law Group, we have the negotiation and litigation skills to fight for our client’s interests successfully in divorce. To discuss the ways we could help you reach your goals, contact us today for a confidential consultation.