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
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.