If you are going through a divorce, a judge may order you to provide financial support to your spouse while the divorce is pending or once it becomes final. This is known as alimony, and Massachusetts courts generally award it to the lower earning spouse so that that spouse can maintain a reasonable standard of living during and after divorce.
Types of Alimony
There are a number of types of alimony in Massachusetts: rehabilitative alimony, reimbursement alimony, transitional alimony, and general term alimony.
Rehabilitative alimony is intended to help a spouse who needs additional education or job training to become financially independent within a certain amount of time. Rehabilitative alimony cannot last longer than five years.
Reimbursement alimony may be ordered when your spouse financially supported you while you completed an education or received job training during the marriage. Support may be paid in a lump sum or over a time period.
Transitional alimony can be awarded for a short period of time to help the recipient spouse adjust to a new lifestyle or location.
Lastly, general term alimony - - probably the most common type of alimony - - is awarded depending on the length of your marriage. Essentially, and as more fully set forth below, the longer your marriage, the longer you typically pay general term alimony to your ex-spouse.
Duration of Alimony
If you were married for more than twenty years, the court may award indefinite alimony; however, general alimony orders will end when the paying spouse reaches full retirement age. Otherwise, the number of months or years you receive alimony will be dependent on how long you were married. For example, if you were married for six years, you are eligible to receive alimony for up to three years. If you were married for twelve years, you may receive support for approximately eight years and four months.
Whether to Award Alimony
To determine whether to award alimony, the court will consider various factors, including:
- the length of the marriage
- each spouse's income, skills, and employment opportunities
- each spouse’s current liabilities and potential needs
- each spouse's age and health
- the present and future needs of any children of the marriage
- conduct during the marriage, such as adultery, abuse, or abandonment.
The actual amount of support will be based on each spouse's income or ability to earn income. The amount will usually not exceed the recipient spouse's need or a certain percentage of difference in the payor’s and recipient’s incomes, but the judge will have discretion to stray from these guideline amounts if necessary.
Modifying and Terminating Alimony
If you or your spouse wants to modify the alimony amount, you must show a material change in financial or other circumstances, such as a change in employment or a change in income. Support may end when the recipient spouse remarries or begins cohabitating with a significant other.