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 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, called rehabilitative, reimbursement, transitional, and general alimony.
Rehabilitative alimony is intended to help a spouse who needs additional education or job training become financially independent within a certain amount of time. Rehabilitative alimony cannot last longer than five years.
A judge may order you to pay reimbursement alimony as compensation to a spouse who 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 several months.
If your marriage lasted less than five years, the court may award transitional alimony to help the recipient spouse adjust to a new lifestyle or location.
Finally, the court may order general alimony depending on the length of your marriage. The judge may decide that the length of your marriage includes some or all of the time that you and your spouse lived together and financially supported each other prior to marriage.
Duration of Alimony
If you were married for more than 20 years, the court may award indefinite alimony; however, general alimony orders will end when the paying spouse reaches retirement age (65 in Massachusetts). 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 12 years, you may receive support for approximately eight years and four months.
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 and may be a monthly amount or an interest in certain retirement or pension benefits. The amount will usually not exceed the recipient spouse's need or a certain percentage of the payor spouse's income, but the judge will have discretion to stray from the guideline amount if necessary. The judge may also order one spouse to temporarily pay for the other's health insurance while the divorce is pending.
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 move to another state. Support may end when the recipient spouse remarries or begins cohabitating, but remarriage by the payor spouse does not mean the new spouse's income will be a factor in modifying or increasing support.
Alimony ends automatically if the recipient spouse dies and generally also ends when the payor spouse dies unless the court required the payor spouse to provide a life insurance policy to guarantee the payments.
For federal tax purposes, the paying spouse may claim spousal support as a deduction on income taxes. The receiving spouse must claim the payments as income.
Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 208, §§ 34, 48-55 - Spousal Support