What is Alimony/Spousal Support in Massachusetts?

The divorce process in Massachusetts has many components, and one question that often arises is: What exactly is alimony or spousal support in Massachusetts? Simply put, alimony is financial support that one spouse provides to the other during or after the divorce. Many states now refer to alimony as spousal support or spousal maintenance.

In Massachusetts, alimony isn’t determined by a flat formula, and it is not granted automatically. The court makes determinations on a case by case basis, considering many factors like the length of the marriage, the age of each person, employment opportunities, and the lifestyle during the marriage. This ensures the support is tailored to each individual’s circumstances and needs.

The Role of Alimony

Alimony can be a lifeline for a spouse who puts his or her  career on hold, and it can provide a stepping stone for a spouse looking to gain new skills for re-entering the workforce. 

Spousal support serves several critical functions within the divorce process:

  1. Financial Balance: The primary role of alimony is to provide financial support to a spouse who earns significantly less than the other spouse. This is especially relevant in situations where one spouse may have sacrificed his or her career for the family or does not have the immediate ability to support themselves independently due to various reasons, including gaps in employment history or lower earning capacity.
  2. Standard of Living Maintenance: Alimony can help maintain the standard of living established during the marriage. The law acknowledges that both partners contribute to this standard and, therefore, neither should suffer a drastic change in lifestyle post-divorce due to financial disparities.
  3. Transitional Support: This type of support allows  the recipient spouse time to become self-sufficient. This might involve pursuing education, vocational training, or the time needed to find suitable employment.
  4. Compensatory Element: Alimony can also serve as compensation, mainly if one spouse’s career or personal growth was hindered or delayed because he or she was managing the household or supporting the other spouse’s career.
  5. Economic Justice: Alimony can be seen as a means of economic justice to ensure that the financial consequences of divorce are more evenly distributed, particularly in long-term marriages where the investment in family and the sacrifices made are often deeply intertwined with the couple’s economic status.
  6. Negotiating Tool: Sometimes, alimony can be used to negotiate in the divorce settlement process. Spouses might agree to certain property divisions or debt assignments in exchange for alimony considerations.

Duration and Amount

Massachusetts statutes set a limit on the duration of general term alimony payments based on the length of the marriage. The longer a couple has been married, the longer alimony may be ordered to continue. If a couple has been married less than 5 years, a court may order alimony for no more than ½ the number of months that the marriage lasted. For couples married between 5 and 10 years, the limit increases to 60% of the time of the marriage. 

So, for instance, if a couple was married for 8 years, the maximum time a court could set for alimony payments is 60% of eight years or 4.8 years. The percentages continue to increase for longer marriages and by the time a couple has been married for 20 years or more, there is no limit on the duration, so alimony can be awarded to continue indefinitely, but in most instances will terminate when the payor reaches full retirement age.  

While the amount is not set by a statutory formula, statutes establish a general rule that amount of alimony should neither be more than the need demonstrated by the recipient or more than 20-30% of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes at the time of the order. The amount can be higher if alimony is being provided as reimbursement or the recipient presents circumstances that the court finds persuasive in justifying an increase. 

Can We Agree on Alimony? 

The guidelines above apply to situations in which a court determines alimony, but divorcing couples are free to come up with their own arrangements that do not necessarily follow those guidelines. In fact, we encourage couples to agree on alimony together. It’s a chance for both parties to have control over the outcome. If you can agree, the courts will likely approve your decision. 

When Alimony Changes

Life brings change, and those changes can affect alimony obligations. If the spouse receiving alimony remarries or cohabits with a partner for at least three months, alimony can be terminated. A significant change in circumstances may justify a change in alimony, such as if the paying spouse loses his or her job. 

If you want to deviate from the arrangement established by court order, it is important to receive court approval of a modification. Even if the parties reach an agreement on their own, the original court order remains legally enforceable until a new court order is issued.  

We’re Here for You, Koiles Pratt Family Law Group

At Koiles Pratt Family Law Group, we’re committed to helping clients seek fair outcomes in their divorces. Contact us today at 978-744-7774 to schedule your consultation. Whether you’re potentially on the giving or receiving end of alimony, we will work to ensure the outcome is balanced and fair. Let’s talk about what alimony could look like for you.

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    Salem Law Office

    70 Washington Street, Suite 210
    Salem, MA 01970