Alimony is a payment that is ordered by the court in Massachusetts that requires one spouse to pay money to the other during the pendency of a divorce action, after the divorce action for a period of time or permanently. Despite the fact that it’s more common now for both spouses to work outside the home, there are still stay at home parents that don’t work outside the home and spouses that have sidelined their careers to care for children or elderly parents. This creates a discrepancy in income which alimony can mitigate, but the expectation is usually that the non-earning or low-earning spouse will eventually become self-supporting.
Types of Massachusetts Alimony
There are three basic types of alimony that a judge can award to a spouse in Massachusetts:

  • General Term
  • Rehabilitative
  • Reimbursement and
  • Transitional.

General term alimony is a sum of money that a higher earning spouse is required to pay to a lower earning spouse for a specific period of time. The amount of time it is awarded is dependent on many factors, but the length of the marriage is the most important. Rehabilitative alimony is paid to a spouse that is likely to become financially independent but needs to get more training or education in order to command a higher salary. The court will only order rehabilitative alimony for the amount of time the judge believes it will take for the spouse to become self-supporting. Reimbursement alimony applies to marriages where a spouse has contributed financially to the other spouse’s career such as putting them through law or medical school. In such cases, the court has the discretion to order payments that pay this money back, but it only applies to marriages that are five years or less in length. Transitional support is another option that’s only available for short marriages of five years or less. It provides either periodic payments or a lump sum payment that can help the lower earning spouse develop a new lifestyle.
Qualifying For Alimony
Alimony is available to spouses of either gender that can demonstrate a need for support and the ability of their spouse to pay. The judge will look at the following factors to determine what type, how long and the amount of support to be awarded:

  • How long the marriage lasted;
  • The age of each spouse;
  • The health of the spouse;
  • The income and employment history of both spouses;
  • The relative employability of both spouses;
  • The economic and non-economic contributions of each spouse during the marriage;
  • The lifestyle during the marriage;
  • The ability of the spouses to maintain that lifestyle and
  • Any other factor the court believes is relevant to making a fair decision.

Judges in Massachusetts have very broad discretion to order alimony and may include marital fault as a factor. The judge won’t refuse to order alimony for a needy spouse because of infidelity, but “marital waste” can be considered. This means that money that was used to buy presents or take vacations with a lover can be reimbursed as alimony.

Massachusetts Alimony Duration

Rehabilitative alimony can only be ordered for a maximum of five years, but judges have the discretion to award general alimony for any period of time, or even permanently. That said, the court generally awards general alimony based on the following guidelines:

  • For short marriages of less than 5 years, alimony will last no more than 1/2 as long as the marriage;
  • For medium length marriages of 5 – 10 years, alimony won’t exceed 60% of the length of the marriage;
  • For long marriages over 10 years, alimony won’t exceed more than 70% of the length of the marriage;
  • For very long marriages of 15-10 years, alimony is no more than 80% of the length of the marriage and
  • For very long marriages, 20 years or longer, the court has the discretion to order lifetime permanent alimony.

It’s important to note that alimony will end if the supported spouse enters into a new marriage, cohabitates with an unrelated person for more than three months or either spouse dies. The best way to find out how much alimony you’re entitled to or might be ordered to pay is to speak to an experienced Massachusetts family law attorney. Call the Bothehlo Group for a free consultation.