There are a lot of misconceptions out there when it comes to alimony, but it’s something that ALL divorcing couples should understand.

That’s why we’ve answered some of the most asked questions when it comes to alimony in Massachusetts:

1. Does everyone get alimony?

No, alimony is awarded based on several factors:

  • The length of the marriage
  • Each spouse’s income, skill and employment opportunities
  • Each spouse’s current need
  • The present and future needs of the parties’ children

Essentially, the Courts look at: the need of the spouse seeking alimony as well as the other spouses’ ability to pay alimony.

In order for an award of alimony to be entered, the party seeking alimony MUST prove that they have the need for support AND that their spouse has the ability to pay. If both aspects are not proven, an alimony award may not be entered.

Another important item to note is that if the parties have dependent children and a child support order is entered, this will have an impact alimony.

Unless the parties’ combined income is over $250,000 per year, an alimony order likely won’t be entered if a child support order is in place.

If the parties’ combined income is over $250,000 per year, the alimony award would only be based on whatever income exceeds $250,000.00. For example, if one spouse makes $200,000 and the other spouse earns $75,000, alimony would only be calculated on $25,000 per year.

HOWEVER, once the dependent children become emancipated and the child support order is no longer in place, a party could seek that their spousal support be re-calculated based upon ALL of the paying spouses’ income.

2. For how long is alimony usually paid/received?

This all depends on how long you were married.

If the marriage lasted longer than 20 years, a Judge can decide to award alimony indefinitely, but in most cases, alimony would cease upon the paying spouse reaching full retirement age.

For shorter marriages, alimony durations are determined as follows:

  • 0 to 5 years            50% length of marriage
  • 6 to 10 years          60% length of marriage
  • 11 to 15 years        70% length of marriage
  • 16 to 20 years        80% length of marriage

It’s also important to note that the duration of the marriage is considered as the number of months between the date the parties were married and the date the divorce summons was served.

3. How is alimony calculated?

Typically, alimony is calculated at 30-35% of the parties’ difference in income. However, Judges do have the discretion to stray from the guidelines and order a different amount based upon the parties’ needs and ability to pay.

Also, as stated above, if there is already a child support order in place, alimony will only be calculated on the parties’ combined income over $250,000.

4. Can alimony be modified after the divorce is finalized?

Yes!

However, there are certain cases where the language in your Separation Agreement would prohibit either party from attempting to modify alimony. Make sure you discuss this with your lawyer prior to signing any Separation Agreement!

In most cases, alimony can be modified should a material change in circumstance occur.

Some examples of a material change in circumstance would be:

  • Either party receives an increase OR decrease in pay
  • One party loses their job
  • The paying spouse reaching full retirement age
  • A serious illness affects either party’s ability to work
  • The spouse receiving alimony gets re-married or begins cohabitating with a significant other
  • The parties’ children become emancipated and there is no longer a child support order in place

Many individuals whose alimony awards were entered prior to 2012 when the Alimony Reform Act was entered many also be eligible to file a modification if the duration of their alimony payments is not in line with the Act.

If you were divorced prior to 2012 and are paying OR receiving alimony, it might be beneficial to speak with a lawyer about the possible ramifications the Alimony Reform Act could have on your alimony order.

5. Can alimony be ordered BEFORE a divorce is finalized?

YES!

During the divorce proceedings, you can file what is called a Motion for Temporary Orders. This allows the Judge to enter orders that will be put in place during the pendency of the divorce action.

Among other things, a Judge can enter a temporary alimony award to help one spouse make ends meet until he or she receives the final divorce settlement. At such time, alimony could be terminated or a different alimony award may be put in place.

6. What happens if one spouse fails to pay alimony?

A spouse cannot simply stop paying alimony.

Even if he or she loses their job or if the spouse receiving alimony wins the lottery, alimony payments must continue until the paying spouse files a modification action with the Court and is allowed to terminate alimony.

IF a spouse stops paying alimony, the other spouse can and SHOULD file a Complaint for Contempt with the Court, seeking the payment of overdue alimony and their attorneys’ fees.

If your spouse has recently stopped paying alimony, please check out our blog post on this topic or contact our office for a free initial consultation.

Alimony can be an extremely tetchy subject, but when going through a divorce, it’s crucial that you know your rights as it pertains to alimony. If you are going through a divorce or just considering one and would like to set up a meeting with one of our experienced attorneys to discuss alimony, please contact us at the office for a free initial consultation. We look forward to your call!