Reforming Alimony: Massachusetts Reconsiders Postdivorce Spousal Support

PdfPDF by Charles P. Kindregan, Jr.February-8-2013

Category: Lead Articles, Number 1, Print Edition, Volume 46

When John Adams wrote the Massachusetts Constitution during the American Revolution, he included a provision allowing for alimony awards in divorce cases.  Thus Massachusetts has recognized awards of spousal support longer than any other state.  From a national perspective, the evolution of alimony law began to undergo changes in the last half of the twentieth century in many states, including time limits on the obligation, use of rehabilitative orders, and greater flexibility to modify.  The introduction of equitable property division in divorce actions in the last decades of the twentieth century throughout the United States helped to reduce the need for alimony in many cases.  Changes in societal habits, including the growing ability of women to become self-supporting, played a role in diminishing expectations of spousal support over recent decades.  In the meantime, efforts were being made to develop models for alimony legislation for states to consider, but few had any national impact.  Certainly, these influences played a role in Massachusetts, just as they did in other states.  But in practice, the idea of maintaining a lifetime lien on the income of alimony obligors also persisted among many lawyers and judges.  The refusal of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 2010 to create a presumption in favor of an obligor’s request to be relieved of his alimony obligation to his long-divorced wife when he reached the age of full retirement, as defined by the Social Security Act, helped to set off a discussion in the bar and among the public about whether alimony needed rethinking.  It led to an effort to reform the statutory standards governing alimony, which eventually led all the major bar associations in the state, as well as members of both houses of the state legislature and the governor, to work together to produce a modern law on spousal support.  This article reviews the substance of this new law, referred to as the Alimony Reform Act of 2011, and some of its implications. . . .

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Author: Charles P. Kindregan, Jr.

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