Alimony and Remarriage in Massachusetts

Divorce is a challenging time for both spouses. So many factors involving the outcome can have lasting effects. Alimony is no exception. Alimony refers to a specified amount of money paid to one spouse by the other spouse during and after divorce. The purpose is to help the lower-earning spouse maintain a reasonable standard of living. One of the most popular questions asked is, “can remarriage discontinue alimony?” A change in the Massachusetts alimony law in 2012 clarified that provision and several others. Consider these four frequently asked questions about alimony and remarriage in Massachusetts.

How Much is Alimony?
The new alimony law created several different forms of alimony, including general term, reimbursement, transitional, and rehabilitative. The most common form of alimony is general term, and only this type will be discussed in this article. The main consideration in calculating general term alimony in Massachusetts is each spouse’s income or income ability and need. However, many other factors are at play when a court determines how much alimony a spouse is required to pay. While the actual amount is usually a percentage of the paying spouse’s income, the following factors are also considered:

  • How long the two were married.
  • The standard of living while married and the ability of both spouses to maintain that standard of living post-divorce.
  • The income, skills and employment opportunities of both spouses.
  • The current liabilities and needs of each spouse.
  • The age and health of each spouse.

The Court determines the amount of general term alimony using the higher wage earner’s ability to pay and the lower wage earner’s need. Alternatively, the Court may calculate alimony by applying a percentage to the difference between the two parties’ incomes. The percentage ranges between 30% and 35%. Income is a defined term, and may not include all forms received by the parties.

What if the receiving spouse gets remarried?
Traditionally, Massachusetts permitted the payor spouse to terminate alimony when the recipient spouse remarried. The new alimony law included this provision, and also allows the payor spouse to terminate alimony upon the recipient spouse’s remarriage. . While there is very little case law on this topic, most infer that alimony may be automatically terminated upon remarriage. If your spouse is planning to remarry, it is best to have a lawyer review your Separation Agreement or Divorce Judgment to determine if automatic termination is appropriate. Notably, if the new marriage ends, the old alimony order is not reinstated.

What if the receiving spouse is living with a partner?
The new law does allow for alimony to be suspended, reduced, and even terminated if the Court finds that the receiving spouse is maintaining a common household with a partner. The Court looks to several factors to make this determination, including without limitation whether they are sharing a household, are economically interdependent, and their reputation in the community as a couple. The paying spouse must prove their ex-spouse has been maintaining a common household for at least three consecutive months. Alimony can be reinstated when the living arrangements change.

What other factors may change alimony in Massachusetts?
In addition to remarriage or cohabitation, a paying spouse may terminate his or her alimony obligation based on the duration of their marriage or reaching the normal age of retirement. Under the new alimony law, the duration of alimony is determined by the number of years of your marriage. If you have exceeded the stated alimony duration, or are about to, you may ask the Court to terminate alimony. Additionally, if you are or have reached the Social Security Administration retirement age, then you may be eligible to terminate alimony.

How do I get my alimony changed in Massachusetts?
You must file a “complaint for modification of alimony” with the court to discontinue or change the amount of alimony being collected or paid. The requesting spouse must prove reason for the change, either in the recipient’s need or the paying spouse’s ability to pay. For example, if the paying spouse became unemployed, a modification may be warranted.

If you would like to discuss your case please contact us for a case evaluation.