Attorneys Experienced in All Aspects of Alimony and Spousal Support in Massachusetts

If you are considering filing for divorce and are economically dependent on your spouse, you may be wondering how you will afford living expenses after the divorce is finalized.  Alternatively, you may be concerned about how you will pay both your expenses and spousal support to a former spouse.  We have extensive experience in all matters relating to alimony and spousal support and will be glad to speak with you about your individual needs and circumstances.

In Massachusetts, alimony (also known as spousal support) can be awarded to a financially dependent spouse if he/she does not have the means to support himself/herself.  Alimony is based on one party’s “need” for support and the other party’s “ability to pay” support.  The duration of support to be paid from one spouse to the other is based on the number of months of the marriage.  Time starts as of the date of the parties’ marriage and is “tolled” upon one party’s filing of a Complaint for Divorce with the Court.  Support amounts can vary greatly.

Alimony & Spousal Support FAQs

Massachusetts courts consider a variety of factors when deciding whether to award alimony/spousal support and the amount that should be awarded, including:

  • The length of the marriage.
  • The age of the parties.
  • The health of each spouse.
  • The incomes of each spouse.
  • The future earning potential of each spouse.
  • Contributions made by each spouse during the marriage (both economic and non-economic).
  • The quality of life a couple has been accustomed to during the marriage.
  • The value of lost economic opportunity resulting from the marriage (i.e., if one spouse has foregone a career in order to take care of children).
  • Other relevant information.

These are the factors set forth in M.G.L. Chapter 208, Section 34 and are often referred to as the “Section 34 Factors.”

Massachusetts courts consider the above-listed factors when setting the amount of alimony.  In March 2012, the Alimony Reform Act went into effect.  Prior to the Alimony Reform Act’s inception, the Probate and Family Court judges had a great deal of discretion in awarding alimony orders or judgments.  Except for reimbursement alimony (discussed below), spousal support generally will not exceed the recipient’s need or some percentage of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes.

It is often the case that one spouse is in need of alimony because he/she lacks the financial resources to be self-sufficient after the divorce.  However, every situation is unique, and different types of support can be awarded to accommodate the circumstances and needs of an individual, including:

  • General-Term Alimony.  General-term alimony is spousal support that is paid in regular installments over a specified period of time.  This is the most common type of alimony awarded to a party.  The duration of general-term alimony is based on the length of the marriage. There are certain events that would cause general-term alimony to terminate:  either party’s death or the remarriage of the recipient spouse.  In addition, in the event the recipient of alimony cohabits with a third person with whom he/she is in a dating relationship, then alimony can be reduced, suspended, or terminated.
  • Rehabilitative Alimony.  If a spouse is not currently financially independent but is expected to be so in the future, the court may award rehabilitative alimony to provide temporary support to the former spouse.  The term for rehabilitative alimony will not exceed five (5) years.
  • Reimbursement Alimony.  Reimbursement alimony is spousal support that reimburses a former spouse for economic sacrifices made during a marriage that benefited the other spouse’s financial position.  Reimbursement alimony cannot be modified.
  • Transitional Alimony.  Transitional alimony is designed to help one spouse adjust to life as a divorced, single person.  In Massachusetts, this type of alimony is typically granted for marriages of five (5) or fewer years, and it is only available for up to three (3) years from the date of the parties’ divorce.  Transitional alimony also cannot be modified. 

See M.G.L. c. 208, Sections 48-55. 

The length of general-term alimony or spousal support is awarded based on the following:

  • Marriage of 5 years or less: Maximum term of 50% of the number of months of marriage.
  • Marriage of 10 years or less but more than 5 years: Maximum term of 60% of the number of months of the marriage.
  • Marriage of 15 years or less but more than 10 years: Maximum term of 70% of the number of months of the marriage.
  • Marriage of 20 years or less but more than 15 years: Maximum term of 80% of the number of months of the marriage.
  • Marriage of over 20 years: Alimony can be awarded until retirement age (as defined in the Social Security Act), but it may be extended for good cause shown. See M.G.L. c. 208 §49. 

So long as neither party agrees to a waiver of future alimony, then in the event of a substantial and material change in circumstances, a party paying or receiving alimony may file a complaint for modification with the court to request that the court change either the amount of the spousal support or the duration of payments, or order a suspension or termination of alimony.  The following are a few scenarios when Massachusetts courts can grant alimony modifications:

  • The circumstances used to determine alimony have significantly changed.  For example, if one party loses her/his job, or, if a party is earning more, or less, income than he/she was at the time that the judgment was entered.
  • Alimony was determined before the Alimony Reform Act, and the order requires payment for longer than the current term limits.
  • The alimony recipient maintains a “common household” (as that term is defined in the statute) with another person (for at least three continuous months).
  • An individual suffers a serious injury or illness, affecting the party’s ability to work.