Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Massachusetts alimony reform bill likely up for a vote this summer

Senator Gale Candaras’ alimony reform bill (S00665) was heard by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary on May 18, 2011 in the Gardner Auditorium, the largest venue available in the Statehouse. That marathon session was followed by an executive session of the committee on June 2nd during which the bill received a favorable report and was moved on to the House Committee on Steering, Policy and Scheduling.

With about 130 co-sponsors from the collective 200 members of the Senate and House, it appears that the bill will easily get the nod to make its way down the hall to the governor’s office. But a bill with this much support has intrinsic value as horse; that is, in a proverbial horse trading session.

That’s what makes it impossible to know when the bill will be brought to a vote in the House and Senate chambers. Clearly, the focus at the moment is on the Conference Committee’s reconciliation of the two house’s fiscal 2012 budget proposals. A continuing resolution was passed on Monday to keep state government funded for a couple of weeks, moving a likely vote on the budget to next week.

With the budget hurdle cleared, alimony reform will get its day in General Court. Here is the summary included with Senator Candaras’ bill:

This measure is the result of the work by the Alimony Task Force appointed by the Chairs of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. The Task Force worked to produce a piece of legislation resulting in fair and equitable alimony reform in Massachusetts.

Each member of the Task Force brought to the table a unique perspective based on his or her respective experience and prospective solutions. Task Force members sought to respond to the requests for simplification, clarification, and specificity of the alimony law throughout the process, responding to concerns and thoughtful insight from a myriad of parties, such as judges, lawyers, reform advocates and individuals interested in reforming alimony law in the Commonwealth.

The Task Force is comprised of members representing diverse groups of interests and parties. Senator Gale D. Candaras and Representative John V. Fernandes were appointed as the co-chairs of the Task Force. The co-chairs were joined by representatives from the following interest groups, which spanned various socio-economic backgrounds, as well as differing interests: (1) the judiciary, (2) bar associations, (3) private attorneys, and (4) an advocacy group. Along with Judiciary Committee staff, the individual members of the Task Force include: Senator Gale D. Candaras (Co-Chair); Representative John V. Fernandes (Co-Chair); Honorable Paula M. Carey, Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court; Kelly Leighton, Esq., Liaison to the Boston Bar Association; Fern L. Frolin, Esq., Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers; David Lee, Esq., Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers; Denise Squillante, Esq., Massachusetts Bar Association; Steve Hitner, Massachusetts Alimony Reform; and Rachel Biscardi, Esq., Women’s Bar Association.

Through this comprehensive legislation, the Task Force addresses numerous issues and establishes parity and clarity regarding alimony in the Commonwealth. The following is a broad overview of the major concerns the Task Force encountered, and the recommendations addressed in the accompanying petition.

1. Separate Alimony Categories with Clear Definitions and Set Durational Limits—This petition proposes clear and categorical definitions for alimony, commonly used by the courts, but absent in the current general laws. These new categories are as follows: (a) general term alimony, (b) rehabilitative alimony, (c) reimbursement alimony, and (d) transitional alimony. Each category contains a concise definition along with a durational limit, giving payors and recipients a clear expectation of a finite period of time alimony will be paid and/or received. Further, for general term alimony, the default form of alimony, durational limits are based on the length of marriage, and now encompass short-term marriages (marriages for five years or less), which were often excluded from alimony awards in practice. However, the court retains its discretion to order indefinite alimony in certain cases.

2. Termination of General Alimony at Retirement—The legislation also provides, unless good cause is shown, that general alimony terminates upon the payor spouse reaching the age of full retirement. The age of full retirement is established by the federal United States Old-Age Disability, and Survivors Insurance Act, and may change periodically, subject to the federal statute. By terminating General Term Alimony at retirement, the Task Force hopes to enable both payors and recipients to plan for their own retirement.

3. Cohabitation—This reform also makes recommendations regarding the issue of cohabitation. The Task Force’s goal is to end the situation where the payor spouse continues to support the recipient spouse while maintaining a life with another. Nonetheless, safeguards are included to protect the recipient spouse where appropriate. Specifically, the recipient spouse may petition the court to reinstate the alimony award if and when the recipient spouse moves out.

4. Modified Factors Consider in a Alimony Order & Percentage of Need—This petition also provides a list of amended factors the court must consider when determining an alimony order. The factors chosen reflect a more comprehensive, effective and relevant list than the current law, including several stemming from the leading bill proposed by Representative Stephen Walsh during the 186th legislative session.

5. Phase In Time Structure for Modifications—To prevent an additional burden on the courts, the Task Force delineated a “phase in” structure in the modification of current alimony orders. This will allow current payors and recipients to petition for modification of their current alimony orders, pursuant to this legislation, while allowing the courts ample time for the critical training and necessary preparations that this new law will undoubtedly require. Moreover, this phase in period will hopefully ease the hardship on the courts resulting from the influx of cases onto their current caseloads and other recent changes in the general laws.

29 comments:

  1. The issue that I see missing is duration of marriage. If a woman supports the career of her husband by performing the household task portion of the partnership and/or the major child care how can it be fair that she be on her own financally at her husband's retirement age when she may have forsaken building independent wealth and a career because of the responsibilities of marriage and in support for the other spouses career. Obviously this situation could happen to a man or a woman.

    The issue would be who became the "homemaker". While I see this new approach as part of a cultural shift, for those currently engaged in the traditional marriages the spouse who has sacrificed building a career and wealth is going to get the short end of the stick. I would hope there is a time frame that takes into account current common marital practice where roles are concerned. I hope this isn't just another way to take advantage of the homemaker financially at the end of a long marriage.

    It looks to me that the best thing is for people not to get married or for people who make decisions about who gives up the career to have contracts. Perhaps the working spouse needs to pay the spouse that stays home. Certainly both spouses often work. This is good legislation that will encourage a culture of both spouses working. When and if children enter the picture it becomes much more complicated. Clearly this is legislation that like in most of society shows how little value there is for full time child care.

    What a bunch of baloney. Mass had very fair laws, what the heck are they trying to pull now.

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  2. May 16 2011

    Joint Committee on the Judiciary
    State House Boston MA

    Dear Senator Creem and Representative O’Flaherty;

    First I want to thank you for forming the Alimony Reform Task Force and allowing me this opportunity to put forward to you
    my financial and medical dilemma.

    After 20 years of a second marriage with no children, I divorced in 2000. She got the proceeds of our condo in Winchester and all the household belongings. Added by $475.00 per week plus full health insurance. In January 2009 I was laid off from a corporation where I worked as an Art Director Senior Graphic Designer.

    I received 8 months severance, and tried to get work through 2009 without success. I had to go on Cobra at the cost of $975.00 per month to comply with the court order and continue $475 per week alimony. In August 2009 I went on unemployment and at my age of 64 I applied for SSDI. Upon recieving SSDI I had to give up unemployment. Now I am down to recieving just SSDI at $25,000. per year.
    Through 2010 I had to declare bankruptcy and sell at lot of belongings. Now at age 66 which is my full retirement year I am losing my house to foreclosure. Needing to move to a 1 bedroom apartment which I have just applied for and I my not get because my credit has been destroyed over the years. I’ve been in a bad place financially and mental therapy (depression, anxiety and server tremors) for the last 12 year’s.
    In May of 2009 I started modification proceedings in December of the same year alimony was reduced to $125.00 per week and no health. She had SSDI at $900. per month since 1997 and now $375. share from my SS plus $530. per month from my SS check.
    Her monthly total $1805. Plus I have no idea if she is remarried, living with anyone, working, inheritance or has any other income.
    My SS $2055. per month after health deduction, minus $530. alimony leaves $1525. forever. Please end this
    indentured servitude please. I need to finally be divorced, and get my life back. My 85 year old mother doesn’t need me moving back in with her.

    Thank you for taking the time to hear my plea for help.

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  3. Thanks for a clear and thorough update on this long overdue alimony reform legislation. It's heartening to know there is so much support for it and that change is close at hand!

    Bob

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  4. Thank you Representative Hunt for bringing attention to this important subject that is affecting families throughout the state.
    Families are being financially devastated and innocent people are locked up in jail, something has to be done. People shouldn’t have to serve time in jail as a consequence of financial hardship.
    At the time of my divorce, I was a successful business owner. The family courts wiped me out financially, resulting in me having to fire all of my employees, affecting their families as well. I lost my home and eventually had to file for bankruptcy.
    It has been even worse for my ex-wife. She has been encouraged not to become gainfully employed and not to get married, because both would result in a potential loss of alimony income.
    This is the 21st century and we’re dealing with a system developed in the 18th and 19th centuries. Alimony should be a “hand up”, not a “hand out” free ride entitlement for life.
    My family suffered through an 8-year legal ordeal thanks to the current alimony system. That process was detrimental to the State, me, my ex-wife and most importantly our children. The time for reform is now. Let's pass this bill!

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  5. It is about time that fairness and dignity accompany divorce decrees. Marriage should not be a life sentence to provide welfare for another. I wholeheartedly applaud these efforts and the new legislation. Bravo for the task force !

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  6. One of the truly fair components of the proposed alimony reform is that there will be a predictable outcome to divorce in MA. Thank you to all involved in bringing this legislation to the forefront - House & Senate, please move this legislation along to the Governor for signature

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  7. Dear Rand Hunt,

    If you have failed in your profession or you are too lazy to be a hard working person, marry someone who makes more money than you and ask for divorce, your future is guaranteed. Legislators and the USA courts support this idea !

    I decided don’t work, while my income is used to work out the alimony. I make my life poorer, the USA lose a workpower, while a lazy and con artist has opportunity for an easy life ! Legislators and the USA courts support this idea !

    My husband will not invest more in his profession because He knows that his effort will be shared with a person who isn’t part of his life.
    Legislators and the USA courts support this idea !

    Do you think it is fair ?

    Chris

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  8. I feel sorry for the lady who posted first. We are all adults and ultimately need to stand on our own two feet. Life is tough, and adults have to learn how to deal with heartache, lost jobs, and yes, divorce.

    NO ONE should have to pay another person for the rest of their life. We are not required to support our grown children nor our elderly parents, and there is no reason on earth why someone should "support" his ex until the day he dies. Both parties have to plan for and accept that there is a phase of life when you will have less money. Making someone work himself to death while the other enjoys their retirement years on his back is cruel and unfair.

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  9. Mr. Hunt,
    Is there any way possible you can help move this bill along?

    We have been waiting years and years for relief from this unfair burden of lifetime alimony.

    So sad to think that we are "horses" to be traded. We are real men and women, trying hard to get an unfair law changed. Is this what our legislators think of us? How sad.

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  10. I am so glad to hear this bill is moving in the right direction. Many people are financially drained and need to move on. Alimony needs reform, plain and simple.

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  11. This reform is long overdue

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  12. I would like to start this piece with the following question: Why at the end of a relationship the part who has the highest income is obliged to support financially the other part ? I am not talking about child support, I am talking about alimony. In a country like the United States, where the society was built on a system based on meritocracy, that is, you earn in proportion to your efforts and success, it is not consistent, not to say indecent, a judge (supported by legislation) to establish that one of the parts is forced to support the other. The arguments used by the judges, and the legislation that supports those arguments, are so incredibly stupid and old fashioned that I will use a different place to speak about them. Let me go over the tale that brought me here:

    My husband has three children from the first marriage (ages 16, 18 and 22) and was married by 13 years. During this relationship they acquired 2 properties (bought by his efforts only efforts since his ex-wife did not have a job). After he separated from his ex-wife, he tried an amicable divorce that dragged for five years in negotiations (his biggest mistake) because he wanted to avoid the stress that a litigious battle in court would create for his children. During this time his ex-wife threatened to quit her job if he went to court (and the US judges back up this kind of behavior). After he left home, my husband went to live with his oldest son in a one-bedroom apartment (my husband slept in the dining/kitchen while his son had the only room for himself). His ex-wife live in a 4 bedroom apartment with the two daughters. After the separation, even living in undesirable conditions, looking after his son who had drug problems (while his ex-wife lived a comfortable life), my husband succeeded, at great effort and hard work, to get a better pay check and taking care of his son with drug problems . Both are teachers and have the same age. Both had the same opportunities.

    With the divorce settled it was established a child support on the first $100 k of his income and alimony of 1/3 on the rest of his income above $ 100 k. His ex-wife is getting a lot of money as a result of somebody else's efforts.

    Some time ago my husband needed her signature on a document and she asked him for $ 5 k to do that. What does the family court of Massachusetts does in this case ? Nothing. Given that both have the same age, and same possibility of advancement in their jobs, any extra effort that they make for the betterment of their lives should not reward them individually ? The US justice system does not believe so.

    I and my husband are planing to have a child soon. What are my rights now ? The US law seems to say that an ex-wife is worth more than the actual wife. Thus, I propose that all the "second class" wives get divorced as well but keep living with their husbands. The judges will have to recalculate the alimony taking that into consideration and, as a "couple", our income will be bigger ! Let us do that until the legislators wake up and, luckily, land on the twentieth first century.

    Please, make something to correct it.

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  13. Thank you for your post, and I hope that you will do what you can to bring S665 to the floor promptly, so we don't need to wait another two years for justice.

    The first post was made by a person who clearly is unaware of how divorce and alimony work in Massachusetts, let alone in the rest of the country. "Fair" is not a word I'd use to describe the current law. Antiquated and out of touch with how modern marriages work would be more like it. Much of this has been thoroughly covered in the press, and I refer the reader to www.massalimonyreform.org for a complete set of references.

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  14. @Anonymous 9:24pm: I have no knowledge of this bill being used as a "chit." My observation about the value of a popular bill is a general comment regarding the way things get done (or sometimes held up) in Boston and Washington.

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  15. The first poster is forgetting that each spouse will get an equitable share of retirement savings or pension benefits accumulated during the marriage, and after divorce has the opportunity to save from the alimony received. The present system is unfair because the spouse takes half the retirement savings or pension benefits, gets alimony until retirement, and then continues to get alimony from someone who is no longer working. Where does this alimony come from? From the share that the working spouse supposedly got during the divorce, resulting in a re-division of those marital assets, or from savings accumulated post-divorce, resulting in a retroactive increase in alimony as those savings had to come from the portion of income left to the payor after paying alimony. It's completely unfair and makes no sense at all. The person who saved for retirement is punished and the person who failed to save is rewarded.

    The new law does not go far enough. There is NO reason alimony should ever last longer than half the length of the marriage. We can never know who made the decisions regarding who would work and who would stay home (I know plenty of husbands who WISH their wives would work!) -- half the length of the marriage assigns responsibility for those decisions equally to both parties. The timelines are too long, and should include a step-down after some period of years. For example, in a 16-year marriage, the recipient doesn't even have to START looking for work until almost 13 years later!! And how many of those spouses will then claim hardship because they are older, have been out of the workforce longer, etc? Also, it should be based on the difference in earning potential assuming both parties are working full-time, not on the difference in current income. If one spouse isn't working, that means paying alimony for many years to someone who is capable of earning. There should be at most a 2-year period to re-enter the workforce. Yes, even if there are children. Staying home with the children is a privilege that comes with marriage, it is not a right. When the marriage ends, that privilege ends.

    The most important thing this new law will do is to create predictability, which will keep cases out of the courts, and avoid the prolonged legal battles that the current system encourages.

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  16. Thank you for addressing this long overdue reform! I am a woman who does not support lifetime alimony. It seems odd to me that the person above commented that child-rearing is undervalued, because the current system rewards what is an 18 year job with an annuity for life. What other jobs offer those kind of benefits?

    The testimony of MA residents at the hearing shows that this is an "entitlement" program that is being abused. Non-working spouses are not looking for work, they are living for years with other people and take no responsibility for their own retirement because they always have the right to demand more from another.

    Unfortunately, this burden on the working spouse forces him or her to provide for a grown adult at the expense of the children. The new law will go far to correct these mistakes and ensure that divorce is finalized.

    Thank you again for reporting on this very important topic.

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  17. About the item 3 - Cohabitation

    The sentence :Nonetheless, safeguards are included to protect the recipient spouse where appropriate.

    Is this sentence a joke ? If the recipient spouse lives with another person, THE ALIMONY NEEDS TO FINISH. that's all !

    It is very difficult to understand what is scaring you all...Most of the recipient spouse are women, so I suppose that the Puritan theology is exerting a big influence about this type of sentence.

    We are in the 21st century ! Wake up !

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  18. My warning for the women who receive alimony in MA (94%) and have son :

    The law that protect you today will be the law that will can destroy your son's life tomorrow !

    This is a good time to check how much you like your son !

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  19. Long overdue. a man I know has to pay alimony to an ex who is making almost as much as he is.Something is wrong and this bill is a good start to remedy the problems

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  20. This is an old and outdated law. This new reform is more than fair to both parties. When are women going to realize it is time to stand on their own two feet and not rely on a man? I hope this is new law is passed so women can finally be self sufficient......

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  21. Maurice Bracken, North Brookfield, MAJune 30, 2011 at 8:12 AM

    Upon divorce my first wife received a substantial amount of money. She has also been receiving substantial alimony over the years. If this bill passes, at legal retirement age I will have paid alimony for about the same length as the 24 year marriage. I feel enough moneies have been paid for my first wife to have invested in her career and her retirement. The concepts presented in this bill are fair and sensible. Don't I also deserve a decent retirement after 50 years of working and paying into the system? Isn't it ironic that Massachusetts has some of the most libreal marriage laws while holding onto very antiquated divorce laws? This law would bring balance to the system. Thank you.

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  22. Thank God for this bill, I hope it passes soon.

    For the person who posted the first comment....I am sure you would have had plenty of time once your children were grown to retrain for a career. Why would you be living off of someone for 20+ years when you could be working. Do you think that you get to stay home once the children are gone and collect a free pay check? There is also something called mother's hours too. Lots of companies have them for women/men who are home with young children.

    You would also have received retirement money in your divorce.

    We need to end this free ride for the lazy and servitude for the paying spouse.

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  23. I am in love with a man that was divorced in Mass. His Ex wife is still living in the marital home (he wanted it this way for the sake of his two young daughters!) which he also pays for, until the children are both 18 years of age.

    However, he also pays a VERY high price each month in alimony. He pays this to a woman who refuses to get a job with the college degree he originally paid for!

    While they were married and the the kids were in school, she refused to get a job. When she did have a job, she would quit when it did not suit her mood for the day. He battled with this for years until he finally left, after 23 years of marriage.

    His daily commute to the office is hours. Her daily commute is to the mailbox to pick up her alimony check.

    Let's get this bill passed. The people who are able to work should. The people who are in need of retiring should be able to. The Lawyers who drag these cases on for years should be ashamed of themselves.

    Bottom line, marriage to someone in Mass should not mean that if it does not work out, you are slapped with a lifetime of servitude to anyone!

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  24. The time for reform is NOW! Totally agree with the statement above:
    "The US law seems to say that an ex-wife is worth more than the actual wife."
    why should my husband and I have to support his ex-wife for the past 11 years, when he was not even married for 5 Years. Paying her $550 a week!
    she has a degree, has a job, is perfectly capeable of making her OWN money.
    I am also in the same boat at the comment above:
    We want to have children and start our OWN family!
    And GUESS what I will be working when I have a child and Not staying home just like a huge percent of the population these days.

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  25. In a long term marriage where the wife did not work (or didn't work full time) the divorce decree usually provides for the woman to receive half of the man's retirement savings. Why should the ex-wife then be entitled to retire and live off the amount of alimony she was awarded when the man was at his peak earning capacity? Why should he have to pay her out of his savings in order for HIM to retire? That's double dipping! He's already given you half the retirement money!!

    Sweetheart, if you are retired, you need to adjust your lifestyle to having less income! You could have invested what you got at the divorce, and would probably be doing better than most women who don't get the divorce bonus, but just work and save as best they can.

    I am a woman, have worked all my life, have had years of low income, years of better income. But I would never expect that if I made the decision to stop working that someone else has to provide for me. I am responsible for my own financial health.

    Live with your choices and make the best of the curveballs life throws at you. That's what I call being a grownup!!

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  26. Gene_E_Philbrick@comcast.netJune 30, 2011 at 3:26 PM

    Was married 19 years, wife filed for divorce, divorce finalized 2 1/2 years later. Ex-wife left Mass. 34 years ago. I have been paying alimony for 34 1/2 years, on SSA since 65 and am now 79. I can not believe that this potential law change will relieve me of this monthly
    alimony requirement! Would love to meet an aggressive, knowledgeable attorney close to Salem, NH that would take my case once this law passes! Recommendations for a divorce attorney in Haverhill, Methuen or Lawrence are welcomed.

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  27. Rep Hunt,
    Anything you can do to move this legislation along would be so helpful...

    So many of us (long-term payers, elderly, second wives, etc.) are seeking relief from the outdated and draconian laws we are forced to comply with. Anyone with a sense of decency and fairness would see that it is time to make this bill a reality.

    We appreciate that you support it and that you are giving us this forum to vent. Bless you.

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  28. Hot thread.

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  29. I am a Fiance of a man who is obligated to pay alimony until either his ex remarries or deceases. It is unfair that my income & assets would be considered part of his ex-wife's alimony support. I just don't understand how that can even happen. I've been warned to not marry him because of this out dated law. There is definently a need for Alimony Reform. It is important to me to one day be able to marry my fiancé knowing that my income and assets are not contributed into his spousal support. I do believe that everyone has the right to be self-sufficient, even if it takes a few years to do so. We desperately need to change our Alimony Reform.

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