Massachusetts Sets Limits on Alimony

By JENNIFER LEVITZ, The Wall Street Journal

BOSTON—Alimony isn't forever in Massachusetts anymore.

The state abolished most lifetime spousal support Monday, joining several states where alimony payments have come under scrutiny as payers argue they are struggling in the rocky economy.

Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick signed a measure that generally ends alimony when the payer reaches retirement age or when the recipient begins living with a romantic partner.

The law also establishes a formula for alimony, based on the length of the marriage. For example, alimony would generally last no more than 10½ years following a 15-year marriage.

Judges can still award indefinite alimony for long-term marriages. And in the case of short marriages, a judge can order "reimbursement alimony" if one spouse, for instance, put the other through school.

The law ends the common practice of Massachusetts judges awarding alimony as a permanent entitlement, an increasingly rare practice across the U.S. It also, for the first time, sets guidelines on how the amount of alimony payments should be determined. The changes take effect in March 2012, and people who are paying lifetime alimony can file for modifications starting in 2013. More..

Alimony in Massachusetts Gets Overhaul, With Limits

Published: September 26, 2011

BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick on Monday signed into law new limits on alimony in Massachusetts, sharply curbing lifetime alimony payments in divorce cases and making a series of other changes to a system that critics considered outdated.

The previous system allowed judges to award lifelong alimony after both short and long marriages, in contrast to the practices of most states. It often required payments to continue even after the spouse paying the alimony retired or the spouse receiving it moved in with a new partner.

The new law, which had widespread support in the legislature, allows most of those paying alimony to stop once they retire. It also sets limits, based on the length of a marriage, on the number of years former spouses can receive payments. More...


Reforms make Mass. alimony 'more fair'

Published: Sept. 26, 2011 at 6:47 PM

BOSTON, Sept. 26 (UPI) -- Massachusetts' revamped alimony system is now fair and equitable, Gov. Deval Patrick said Monday as he signed an overhaul ending lifetime alimony payments.

The reforms "modernize and make more fair the alimony system, and it has come up in a very grassroots way, and I like that process," Patrick said at the Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill in Boston.

The overhaul, unanimously passed by the state House and the Senate, is intended to make alimony more fair and reasonable for both parties in a divorce, officials said. More...

Legislation overhauls Bay State alimony law

Patrick expected to sign measure today

By Martine Powers , Globe Staff / September 26, 2011

Divorce attorneys and family advocates are calling the state’s new alimony bill the most dramatic change to family law in decades.

The bill, which was passed unanimously in the House and the Senate, is expected to be signed by Governor Deval Patrick today.

Family law experts and advocates are hoping the new law will make alimony more equitable for both parties in a divorce.

“Our alimony law was so antiquated that there were issues on both sides, for payors and payees,’’ said Denise Squillante, former president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, who represented the organization on the legislative task force. “This a very fair bill that addresses all those issues.’’


Alimony reform heads to governor's desk
Boston Business Journal by Eric Convey

Date: Monday, September 19, 2011

A bill that would overhaul alimony in Massachusetts cleared the state Senate Monday morning and is headed to Gov. Deval Patrick's desk. He will have 10 days to act on it.

The measure followed years of efforts by activists who alleged that the state's system of life-long alimony was unfair to payers. It stipulates that alimony should be paid for "a reasonable length of time." Unlike most states, Massachusetts did not cap alimony after a certain number of years. Even short marriages could result in decades of payments. More...

MBA celebrates Senate approval of sweeping alimony legislation

July 28, 2011

The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 will set enact fair and equitable alimony

"BOSTON, Mass. — The Massachusetts Bar Association applauds today’s Senate vote in support of The Alimony Reform Act of 2011, sweeping alimony legislation that will set clear guidelines throughout Massachusetts courts and structure alimony orders, in large part, on the length of a marriage. The MBA urges Gov. Deval Patrick to sign the bill into law."

Spitz: Eyes turn to Senate for alimony
By Julia Spitz/Daily News staff
Milford Daily News
Posted Jul 24, 2011 @ 12:00 AM

Phyllis Beal lives in South Carolina, but her ties to Massachusetts have been unbreakable. Her 92-year-old husband has to send a hefty check to his ex-wife in Florida each month because of Massachusetts' lifetime alimony law.

"Now that I'm retired, it's an issue. Our income has dwindled," said Beal, who met Wellesley native Bob Beal when she was a Holliston resident and he was recently divorced.

"He was 60 when we married in 1978. (His former wife) was working. But from what I understand, they couldn't look at that at all" when the court calculated the alimony Beal's husband would owe for the rest of his life.

"I just think Massachusetts, being such a liberal state, the alimony laws are so antiquated it just blows my mind," Beal said. "Some of the testimony (presented to legislators in May) makes my husband's situation sound miniscule."

The unanimous vote in the Massachusetts House of Representatives gives Beal hope her husband's payments could end when he's 94. More...

MBA applauds House passage of landmark alimony legislation

BBA Applauds House of Representatives for Passing Landmark Alimony Reform

South Carolina Works Toward Alimony Reform

House approves bill revising Mass. alimony system

By Johanna Kaiser
Associated Press / July 20, 2011

BOSTON—A bill aimed at reforming the state's alimony system was unanimously approved Wednesday by the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

The bill would establish guidelines for alimony payments, and limit the duration of payments, ending so-called "lifetime alimony" payments ordered by some judges in divorce cases.

"The legislation establishes the correct public policy of encouraging parties to terminate their relationships upon divorce and live independently as soon as is practical," Rep. John Fernandes, a Milford Democrat and the House chairman of the Alimony Reform Task Force, said during the debate.

One of the biggest proposed changes in the bill would set limits on how long a spouse can receive alimony payments, based on how long the couple was married. More...

State House News Service

Alimony reform advances in House
Proposals have failed in the past

Updated: Thursday, 07 Jul 2011, 3:30 PM EDT
Published : Thursday, 07 Jul 2011, 3:30 PM EDT

BOSTON (State House News Service) - The House signaled Thursday that it appears ready to tackle an issue that policy makers have long eyed as in need of reform: the alimony system.

During a lightly attended session, the House gave initial approval to a sweeping reform bill and Rep. Paul Donato, (D-Medford), a member of Speaker Robert DeLeo’s leadership team who presided over Thursday’s session, said the House would likely hold a formal session next week to debate the changes.

Under the proposal, state law would lay out for the first time specific guidelines on the levels and duration of payments to former spouses.

Critics of the current system say it is inconsistent and arbitrary and leaves many without redress even if their financial situation deteriorates. The changes would also curb “lifetime” alimony, something reform advocates say Massachusetts judges award too often.

The bill (S 665) has 133 co-sponsors from both parties and support from a large majority in each branch. More...

Boston Herald Op-Ed

Outdated alimony laws need overhaul
By Jennifer C. Braceras
Monday, June 20, 2011

..."My friend Theresa (not her real name) earned more than her husband during the last several years of their marriage. Theresa has sole custody of, and sole financial responsibility for their three children. Yet Theresa is required to pay her ex-husband — an able-bodied male with no child-care responsibilities — several hundred dollars a week! And she is required to do so indefinitely, despite the fact that the loss of this income ultimately hurts the children for whom she is responsible.

"Responding to stories like these, lawmakers on Beacon Hill have filed legislation to modernize Massachusetts alimony law.

"Last week, the Massachusetts House Judiciary Committee gave unanimous support to the alimony reform bill. Let’s hope that the full House and the state Senate act quickly to pass this important legislation. More...

Jennifer C. Braceras is an attorney and political commentator.



Local Printer Pushes For Alimony Fix
Reform measure gains traction with leaders on Beacon Hill

By Matt Pilon
Worcester Business Journal Staff Writer 06/20/11

Marlborough business owner Stephen Hitner’s first marriage ended in divorce 12 years ago. Since that time, his court-ordered alimony payments have been so restrictive that he’s been forced to borrow from his second wife’s credit line to keep up.

In fact, the combined effects of alimony and the economic downturn have dealt a nearly fatal blow to his business, MetroWest Printing.

But Hitner, 63, isn’t taking the pain lying down. In fact, he’s been a prime mover over the last six years to reform the state’s alimony laws. More...

Boston Herald

Alimony Reform Bill Update

By Hillary Chabot
Monday, June 13, 2011

"Legislators, who are still hashing out priorities in the $30.5 billion state budget, are expected to vote on an alimony reform bill this week. The bill would make divorces cheaper and allow judges to cap alimony payments. It also would allow divorced spouses to revisit alimony payments if an unemployed spouse is living with a new partner."


Massachusetts' pending alimony revolution

Boston Business Journal - by George Donnelly Date: Friday, June 3, 2011, 1:19pm EDT

It's the biggest news to hit Massachusetts' probate courts in decades: Lifetime alimony in Massachusetts may be a thing of the past.
Lawmakers are in the process of reforming the commonwealth's paternalistic and punitive alimony laws after holding a legislative hearing last month at the Joint Committee of the Judiciary. Everyone seems to be on the same page.

Massachusetts law currently does not allow judges to cap the duration of alimony, leading to lifetime awards that sometimes don't reflect the economic realities of both the payer and receiver of the alimony. For some payers, a lifetime is a very, very long time, punctuated by job loss, sickness, and the profound desire to retire, often while watching the former spouse not work.

The alimony reform bill does away with these life sentences, instead setting specific guidelines for the duration of alimony. For example, if a couple was married for between 10 and 15 years, the maximum alimony term is 70 percent of the time the couple was married. Judges have the discretion to allow lengthy alimony for marriages over 20 years, but the alimony would end at retirement age, as defined by the Social Security Act.

For many embroiled in the world of family law, either as lawyers or participants, this creates a whole new (reasonable) world. MORE...

Lawmakers look to cap alimony, make divorce cheaper in Mass.

Boston Business Journal - by Lisa van der Pool Date: Thursday, June 2, 2011, 2:51pm EDT

Local divorce lawyers say the proposed Alimony Reform Act of 2011 — which would dramatically alter how alimony payments are determined in Massachusetts — would make divorces cheaper and make their job of advising clients during a divorce much simpler if passed into law. In certain circumstances, it would also open the door for divorced parties to revisit their established alimony agreements.

...“The word I’ve heard is there is a lot of momentum behind this bill, and that legislators are motivated to do something about this issue,” said Kelly Leighton, a divorce attorney at the firm Barnes and Leighton and co-chair of the Boston Bar Association’s family law section.

The Joint Committee on the Judiciary held public hearings on the Alimony Reform law on May 18.

The proposed bill is being hailed by members of the bar as providing long-awaited guidelines for alimony awards in Massachusetts, which currently does not allow judges to cap duration — resulting in worst-case scenarios in working spouses making lifetime payments to non-working spouses who are supported by unmarried, live-in partners.

Read more: Lawmakers look to cap alimony, make divorce cheaper in Mass. | Boston Business Journal

Milford State Rep. hopes to get alimony changes passed

By Ashley Studley, Daily News staff
Milford Daily News
Last update May 25, 2011 @ 12:49 AM

State Rep. John Fernandes said he hopes a bill to reform alimony will hit the Senate or House before summer.

After a successful hearing before the Judiciary Committee last week, the bill seems to be gathering support, the Milford Democrat said.

"We've got tremendous momentum coming out of that hearing for change in the way alimony is handled in Massachusetts. I'm hopeful we'll see it released on the floor in the not-too-distant future," Fernandes said.

Sponsored by Fernandes and state Sen. Gale Candaras, D-Wilbraham, co-chairmen of the Alimony Task Force, the bill seeks to change what officials have deemed an archaic payout system. More...


By Colleen Quinn

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MAY 17, 2011……Alimony payment laws could be dramatically revamped under a proposed plan that would lay out in state law for the first time specific guidelines on the levels and duration of payments to former spouses.

Critics of the current system say it is inconsistent and arbitrary and leaves many without redress even if their financial situation deteriorates. The changes would also curb "lifetime" alimony, something reform advocates say Massachusetts judges award too often.

Alimony reform has come up in the past, but the recession pushed it to the top of the priority list, lawmakers involved in drafting the bill said. The Joint Committee on the Judiciary will hear testimony on the proposed changes Wednesday afternoon. More...

Beacon Hill Weighs A Split From Lifetime Alimony


Once upon a time, alimony laws in Massachusetts made sense. They were enacted when the husband was usually the sole breadwinner. In a typical marriage back then, the wife took care of the home, raised the children and probably didn’t have a chance to develop a marketable skill. So when a marriage ended in divorce, a judge could order the ex-husband to pay alimony to his ex-wife for life.

But it’s a different world today, with women making up nearly half of the American workforce. But while the times have changed, the state’s alimony laws have not. And Massachusetts remains one of the few states that still awards lifetime alimony — even after a brief marriage comes to an end.

But now, Massachusetts is considering amending its alimony laws. On Beacon Hill this week there were hearings on a proposed bill that has broad support. If passed, it would end alimony for life in most cases and put limits on how much one ex is required to pay the other.

Lifetime alimony: How long is too long?: MyFoxBOSTON.com

Spitz: Alimony law needs a change

By Julia Spitz/Daily News staff
The MetroWest Daily News

Posted May 17, 2011

We have laws to encourage people to do the right thing.

We have punishments for those who don't comply.

Some laws are basic. Some are more complicated than a Rubik's Cube.

The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 under consideration on Beacon Hill this week is both.

It's also fair.

...This is hardly the first attempt to overhaul our state's alimony law, but it's now time for the Legislature to act. More...

The Springfield Republican

State Sen. Gale Candaras of Wilbraham to announce proposal to change Massachusetts alimony law

Published: Tuesday, May 17, 2011, 9:43 PM

By Jeanette DeForge, The Republican

BOSTON – Legislators Wednesday will unveil legislation before the joint committee on the judiciary that would limit alimony.

The bill was written by a task force including members of many legal organizations such as the Massachusetts Bar Association, advocates and legislators. The chief justice of the Probate Court served as a consultant to ensure changes would not conflict with existing child custody or divorce laws, said Sen. Gale D. Candaras, D-Wilbraham.

Candaras served as chairwoman of the task force with state Rep. John V. Fernandes, D-Milford. The group worked for 14 months to hammer out the changes in the law, which has not been amended since the early 1980s.


Boston Herald

Mass. considers ending ‘lifetime alimony’

By Associated Press
Sunday, May 15, 2011

"BOSTON - Steve Niro got married three decades ago, but divorced less than five years later. He’s been paying alimony ever since - and there’s no end in sight.

After Niro’s youngest child graduated from college a few years ago, his child support ended and his remaining alimony payment was $65 a week. But his wife took him to court for a modification, and a judge agreed to increase the alimony to $700 a week, or $36,000 a year." More

Listen to Steve Hitner Interview on WCCM Radio, here.

March 17, 2011: Alimony Reform
Bill Fine: WCVB-TV President And General Manager

‘The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 brings needed changes: term limits on alimony, exclusion of second spouses' assets in determining payments and greater discretion for judges in crafting agreements. Two groups who have often been at odds on these issues - Massachusetts' Alimony Reform and the Massachusetts Women's Bar Association - endorse the bill. So does the Massachusetts Bar Association. When it comes to approving this common sense reform, we encourage all state legislators to follow their lead and say "I do."’ More...

Reforming Massachusetts Alimony Laws

"Under current law, ex-spouses in Massachusetts are required to pay alimony for life. But a new bill proposes changing the alimony system from one based on entitlement to one based on need. Emily [Rooney] is joined by attorney Wendy Murphy, Marc Fitzgerald of the Massachusetts Bar Association and alimony reform supporter Gregory Shoukimas."

WCVB Ch5 Boston

State Could End Alimony For Life Law Most Sides Agree Law Is Unfair, Needs Overhaul

POSTED: 3:14 pm EST February 8, 2011

BOSTON -- Getting married is one of the happiest times in life, but life can get very unhappy if the marriage ends in divorce.

If you live in the state of Massachusetts, there's one thing that never ends: alimony. It's a life-long financial obligation that can turn lives and finances upside down. Now a new legislative proposal could radically change that mandate. More...

Boston Herald

Reform could end alimony for life

Jessica FargenBy Jessica Fargen
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Read synopsis in News

Antiquated law pure insanity

Margery EaganBy Margery Eagan
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Read synopsis in News

Press Releases


Candaras and Fernandes File Alimony Reform Measure
January 18, 2011


MBA votes to support landmark alimony reform bill
January 24, 2011


Women's Bar Association Announces Support
of Key Alimony Legislation

January 28, 2011

Breaking News

Lifetime Alimony in Massachusetts: You're Kidding, Right? Wrong.

By Elizabeth Benedict, ElizabethBenedict.com
Posted: February 8, 2011 11:55 AM

FOX 25 NEWS: MA Alimony Laws: Close to Reform?

(FOX 25 / MyFoxBoston.com) - When it comes to paying up after a divorce, the alimony laws in Massachusetts have often been called outdated and maybe even unfair. Legislation at the Statehouse could change the way alimony works here.

Story link: MyFoxBOSTON.com


Chapter 124 of the Acts of 2011,
An Act Reforming Alimony in The Commonwealth
signed by Governor Deval Patrick

Date: Monday, September 26, 2011
Time: 4:00 PM
Place: Massachusetts State House

Thank you to Steve Hitner for leading the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Group to this achievement.

Thank you to the core Board Members of the Mass Alimony Reform Group who volunteered their nights and weekends -- giving their creativity, energy, and ideas -- to organize and publicize the horror stories of lifetime-alimony payers and their second wives, to draft legislation, and to organize members and legislators.

Thank you to the members of the Mass Alimony Reform Group and the Second-Wives & Partners Group who made calls, sent e-mails and letters, and made visits to their Massachusetts Senators and Representatives. This Bill's passage is due to their willingness to speak to their representatives, to testify at Beacon Hill hearings with their horror stories, and to tell these stories to the press.

Thank you to Attorney Tim Taylor who drafted the early Alimony Reform bills, which moved the Joint Committee of the Judiciary to form the Alimony Reform Task Force.

Thank you to Senator Cynthia Creem and Representative Eugene L. O’Flaherty for setting up the Alimony Reform Task Force and to Senator Gale Candaras and Representative John Fernandes for leading the Task Force.

Thank you to the Alimony Reform Task Force, where each member donated their time and expertise to reconcile vastly different views to find the necessary compromises, which created a bill that could pass into law. The Task Force included:

Thank you to the 133 Massachusetts Senators and Representatives who sponsored the original Senate Bill S00665.

Thank you to the press for bringing the horror stories to the public's attention and for the editorials in support of alimony reform. Major articles, stories, and editorials are shown on the News and TV-Radio page. We want to especially thank:

Alimony Reform Law Summary
(UPDATE: Download the Signed Law, Chapter 124 of the Acts of 2011)

  1. Alimony Term Limits
    • Long term marriages (more than 20 years): Alimony will end at retirement age as defined by the Social Security Act.
    • 5 years or less: Maximum Alimony term is 50% of the number of months of marriage.
    • 10 years or less but greater than 5 years: Maximum Alimony term is 60% of the number of months of marriage.
    • 15 years or less but greater than 10 years: Maximum Alimony term is 70% of the number of months of marriage.
    • 20 years or less but greater than 15 years: Maximum Alimony term is 80% of the number of months of marriage.
    • Other term limits apply for "Rehabilitative Alimony, "Reimbursement Alimony", and "Transitional Alimony".
  2. Second Wife's (Husband's) Income and Assets Excluded
    "In the event of the payer’s remarriage, income and assets of the payer’s spouse shall not be considered in a re-determination of alimony in a modification action."
  3. Co-Habitation Suspends, Reduces, or Terminates Alimony
    "General Term Alimony shall be suspended, reduced or terminated upon the cohabitation of the recipient spouse when the payer shows that the recipient has maintained a common household with another person for a continuous period of at least three months."
  4. Child Support: Gross Income is Excluded From Alimony
    For purposes of setting an alimony order, the court shall exclude from its income calculation gross income which the court has already considered for setting a child support order..."
  5. Child Support: Alimony Term is Co-Terminus with Child Support
    "Where the Court orders alimony concurrent with or subsequent to a child support order, the combined duration of alimony and child support shall not exceed the longer of: (i) the alimony duration available at the time of divorce; or (ii) rehabilitative alimony commencing upon the termination of child support. "
  6. Alimony Amount is Limited
    "... the amount of alimony should generally not exceed the recipient’s need or 30 percent to 35 percent of the difference between the parties gross incomes established at the time of the order being issued."
  7. A Second Job or Overtime Income is Not Included in Alimony Modification
    "Income from a second job or overtime work shall be presumed immaterial to alimony modification if:
    (1) A party works more than a single full-time equivalent position; and
    (2) The second job or overtime commenced after entry of the initial order."
  8. Payment of Health Insurance and/or Life Insurance Reduces Alimony Payment
    In setting an initial alimony order, or in modifying an existing order, the court may deviate from duration and amount limits for General Term Alimony and Rehabilitative Alimony upon written findings that deviation is necessary. Grounds for deviation may include:
    (3) Whether the payer spouse is providing health insurance and the cost of health insurance for the recipient spouse;
    (4) Whether the payer spouse has been ordered to secure life insurance for the benefit of the recipient spouse and the cost of such insurance;
  9. Alimony Term Extensions Are Limited And Require Clear And Convincing Evidence
    "The court may grant a recipient an extension of an existing alimony order for good cause shown. In granting extension, the court must enter written findings of:
    (i) A material change of circumstance that occurred after entry of the alimony judgment; and (ii) Reasons for the extension that are supported by clear and convincing evidence.
  10. Alimony Ends with the Remarriage of the Alimony Recipient

Bill History