Alimony is court-ordered payment of monetary support from one spouse to the other for a period of time after divorce.
Alimony is unusual in cases where there is child support unless family gross income is over $250,000. Child support is calculated before alimony, and income used to calculate child support cannot be counted for alimony. Since a couple’s gross income up to $250,000 is typically counted for child support, only gross income above $250,000 is considered for alimony if there are children receiving child support.
Alimony awards made for divorces that are finalized in 2019 and later will no longer be federal tax deductible for the person making the payments. Because of the 120-day waiting period after the judge signs an uncontested divorce decree, uncontested divorce agreements must be signed by August 31, 2018 in order for alimony to remain tax deductible for the payor.
Guidelines for alimony duration are relatively clear (see below) and are based on the length of the marriage. Guidelines are less clear about specific amounts of alimony. They state that alimony should not be greater than the receiving spouse’s need or 30%-35% of the difference between the paying spouse’s gross income and the gross income of the receiving spouse. For example, if Spouse A makes $100,000 per year and Spouse B makes $0 per year, the difference in their income is $100,000 and alimony should therefore not exceed $30,000 to $35,000, assuming Spouse B has need.
The law is explicit that a judge can attribute income to a spouse, which means the judge can act as if a spouse is actually making money that he or she is not earning at the moment. In the example above, in which Spouse B had earnings of $0, a judge could attribute income to Spouse B, arguing that Spouse B could have a full-time minimum wage job and earn $20,000 per year. The difference in income between Spouse A and Spouse B would then be $80,000, and alimony would be 30%-35% of this, or $24,000 to $28,000.
In practice, many couples use 30%-35% of the difference in income as a starting point for negotiation of alimony.
The law says a judge can deviate from these limits on amounts or duration of alimony based on a number of specific factors, including (Chapter 124, Section 50e):
1) age or health of either party
2) tax considerations applicable to the parties
3) the payor’s cost of health insurance for the recipient
4) costs of the payor’s court-required life insurance
5) unearned income from assets not otherwise allocated in the divorce process
6) significant cohabitation with economic partnership before marriage or significant periods of separation during marriage
7) a party’s inability to earn money because of abuse by the payor during marriage
8) the payor’s inability to support the payor’s self
Beyond these specific factors, the law states that the court can deviate for any other factors that the court deems “relevant and material.”
The “The Alimony Reform Act of 2011,” which took effect March 1, 2012, limits the length of alimony and ties it to the length of marriage.
For marriages of 5 or fewer years, alimony cannot be required for more than 50% of the number of months married. For example, if you were married for 3.5 years (42 months), alimony cannot last longer than 21 months.
For marriages of 5 to 10 years, alimony cannot be required for more than 60% of the number of months married. Thus, for a marriage of 8.3 years (100 months), alimony cannot exceed 60 months.
For marriages of 10 to 15 years, alimony cannot be required for more than 70% of the number of months married.
For marriages of 15 to 20 years, alimony cannot be required for more than 80% of the number of months married.
For marriages longer than 20 years, there is no upper limit on how long alimony can be required by a court.
The length of the marriage is measured from the date of marriage to the service of divorce papers or the filing of divorce papers in court. A judge can adjust the length of marriage time if there was significant premarital cohabitation that included economic partnership or if there were significant periods of marital separation during the marriage.
In addition to the time limits noted above, alimony ends when either spouse dies or the receiving spouse remarries. A court may order the alimony payor to maintain life insurance with the ex-spouse as beneficiary in case the payor should die during the alimony period.
Alimony also ends when the spouse who is paying alimony reaches full social security retirement age, unless the court has explicitly ordered otherwise. Full social security retirement age depends on one’s year of birth:
Year of Birth
Full Social Security Retirement Age
General term alimony can be suspended, reduced, or terminated upon the cohabitation of the recipient spouse, if the recipient spouse has maintained a common household with another person for a continuous period of at least 3 months.
General term alimony may be reinstated if the cohabitation ends before the termination date of the original order. Even if reinstated, however, it cannot extend beyond the termination date of the original order.
Technically there are 4 types of alimony in Massachusetts. Although they have different names, the four types overlap in their aims and all involve payment of a specific amount of money from one spouse to the other. Payments can be made for a specified period of time, with each type of alimony, or it can be a one-time payment for the “Transitional” and “Reimbursement” types.
Chapter 208, Section 48 of MA General Laws gives the following definitions for the 4 types.
”General term alimony”, the periodic payment of support to a recipient spouse who is economically dependent.
”Rehabilitative alimony’‘, the periodic payment of support to a recipient spouse who is expected to become economically self-sufficient by a predicted time, such as, without limitation, reemployment; completion of job training; or receipt of a sum due from the payor spouse under a judgment.
‘Reimbursement alimony”, the periodic or one-time payment of support to a recipient spouse after a marriage of not more than 5 years to compensate the recipient spouse for economic or noneconomic contribution to the financial resources of the payor spouse, such as enabling the payor spouse to complete an education or job training.
”Transitional alimony”, the periodic or one-time payment of support to a recipient spouse after a marriage of not more than 5 years to transition the recipient spouse to an adjusted lifestyle or location as a result of the divorce.