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Alimony in Massachusetts: an overview

by Shuneet Thomson, PhD

A new alimony law was passed and signed in Massachusetts in early 2012.

Alimony is optional if incomes are roughly equal. Parties can negotiate the details in mediation, but if the Parties agree on alimony, it is subject to the constraints that are built into the law. If the divorce settlement allows for it, the Court can modify alimony in the future.

Length of alimony period
The law puts limits on the duration of the alimony period, depending on length of marriage, as follows:

Length of Marriage Maximum duration of alimony period
5 years or less 50% of the actual length of the marriage
5-10 years 60% of the actual length of the marriage
10-15 years 70% of the actual length of the marriage
15-20 years 80% of the actual length of the marriage
Over 20 years

Length of alimony period can be indefinite

Exclusions
Alimony cannot apply if the Parties' entire incomes are included in the calculation of child support. The same income cannot be subjected to both child support and alimony payments.

The alimony period "counts" from the date of the Divorce Absolute, even if alimony has not been initiated at that time. For instance, if the maximum alimony period is 7 years and alimony does not apply because of child support, it cannot be initiated at the end of child support payments if seven years or more have passed since the Divorce Absolute.

Alimony Ale - A Bitter Brew
        A Bitter Brew?

Dollar Amount
If there is a substantial difference in income, the law indicates a payment of 30-35% of the difference.

Tax Treatment
As has been the case always, the payer can deduct the alimony payments on his/her tax return. The recipient has to declare the alimony payment as income on his or her tax return and pay taxes on it.

Modifications
The alimony payment can be adjusted as the parties' incomes go up or down. Alimony can be paused, reduced or terminated if the recipient cohabits for more than three months and shares living expenses with the other person.

Termination of Alimony
Alimony ends upon the first to occur of the following:

  • Either party is deceased
  • The payer attains full retirement age, as defined by Social Security
  • The preset alimony period has ended
  • The recipient of alimony remarries