Alimony is the financial support of one’s spouse. The Alimony Reform Act of 2011, which became effective March 1, 2012 as Mass. General Laws Chapter 208, §§ 48-55, establishes specific guidelines for setting the amount and durational limits of alimony, based upon the length of the parties’ marriage, and includes language that cohabitation shall cause alimony to be suspended or terminated. The new statute also defines several types of alimony, including general term alimony, rehabilitative alimony, reimbursement alimony, and transitional alimony.

The Alimony Reform Act provides that alimony shall terminate upon remarriage of the recipient or death of either spouse, or upon the payor reaching full retirement age as defined by the Social Security Administration. That is, even if the payor retires early, the payor will be required to pay alimony until he or she reaches full retirement age, as defined by the federal government, which is either 66 or 67, depending on your date of birth. A recipient may seek an extension of alimony beyond the payor’s retirement for good cause shown, but carries the burden of showing by clear and convincing evidence that a material change in circumstances has occurred after the entry of the original alimony judgment.

The Court determines the amount and duration of alimony by considering the following factors: The length of the marriage; age of the parties; health of the parties; income, employment and employability of both parties, including employability through reasonable diligence and additional training, if necessary; economic and non-economic contribution of both parties to the marriage; marital lifestyle; ability of each party to maintain the marital lifestyle; lost economic opportunity as a result of the marriage; and such other factors as the court considers relevant and material.

The statute further states, “the amount of alimony should generally not exceed the recipient’s need or 30 to 35 per cent of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes established at the time of the order being issued.” M.G.L. c. 208, § 53(b).

Alimony is payable for set periods of time, determined by the length of the parties’ marriage. Length of marriage is defined as the date of marriage to the date of service of the Complaint for divorce. If a marriage is five years or less, alimony shall continue for no longer than 50% of the number of months of the marriage. Marriages between five and ten years have an alimony duration of 60% of the number of months of marriage. Marriage between ten and fifteen years are subject to alimony for 70% of the number of months of marriage, and marriages between fifteen and twenty years are subject to 80% of the number of months of marriage. Marriages of longer than twenty years have an indefinite alimony term (but retirement will typically terminate alimony in those instances).

These durational limits, as well as the calculation of the amount of alimony, may be deviated by the courts for good cause shown.

Modifications of alimony orders that pre-dated the new alimony statute effective March 1, 2012 will be addressed by the court on a rolling basis. Modifications must be permitted by the original divorce agreement (that is, the alimony agreement incorporated and merged into the divorce judgment), and must be supported by a material change in circumstances. Alimony agreements that survive the divorce judgment with independent legal significance cannot typically be modified unless extremely exceptional circumstances are shown.

If a payor remarries, the payor’s spouse’s income shall be irrelevant to the alimony calculation in actions for modification. If a payor obtains a second job after the entry of the alimony order, or if the payor maintains at least one full time job, the second job shall be considered as part of the alimony calculation.