Lawyers say alimony reform a long time coming

Alimony reform in Massachusetts is an issue that has been discussed for years. On March 1, 2012, a new alimony law went into effect that completely changes the law in Massachusetts. Under the old law, the Court had no authority to set durational limits for even the shortest of marriages. The new law establishes durational limits and establishes various classes of alimony. It also provides those paying under the old law the right to seek a modification or termination of alimony where appropriate.  Following is the article from the Lowell Sun in which I am quoted discussing the need for alimony reform.  You may also review the highlights of the new Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act.

By Lisa Redmond | Lowell Sun Times (original source)

BOSTON — Supporters call it a much-needed divorce.

When Gov. Deval Patrick signed the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Law last September, replacing the state’s antiquated law, the Massachusetts Bar Association described it as “landmark legislation” that will enact “fair and equitable alimony in Massachusetts.”

The new law, which went into effect March 1, includes a major change: Former spouses are no longer locked into a lifetime sentence of paying alimony.

Lowell divorce attorney Eric Schutzbank, of Berid-Schutzbank, described the new law as “absolutely necessary.”

He added, “The law is a good compromise that should enable those going through the difficult process of getting divorced to have a greater opportunity to negotiate an outcome they can be satisfied with as it pertains to alimony.”

Taking a page from the politicians’ playbook, the new law allows for “alimony term limits.” With alimony term limits, alimony from long-term marriages of more than 20 years will end at retirement age.

For marriages that lasted fewer than 20 years, the length of alimony payments will be determined by the number of months of the marriage. For example, five years or less of marriage limits the term of alimony to 50 percent of the months the couple were married.

The new legislation excludes a second wife or husband’s income or assets in calculating spousal support. And a second job or overtime will be “immaterial” to the alimony amount.

Gale Candaras, D-Wilbraham, who along with Rep. John Fernandes, D-Milford, filed the alimony reform bill, said the goal is to “promote marriage, foster self-sufficiency and encourage all individuals to plan for their retirement.”

While women are the primary recipients of alimony, the Women’s Bar Association praised the reforms because the new law creates categories of alimony with set limitations.

“Under this bill, alimony will also be available to women who have been out of workforce to raise children, those in short-term marriages and low-income women needed assistance to attend school,” wrote WBA President Deborah Hesford DosSantos in a press release.

Schutzbank added, that under the old law a judge had no ability to set durational limits for alimony.

“It made it more difficult to negotiate settlements with respect to alimony waivers where such were appropriate,” he said.

Problems with the old alimony law were highlighted in cases such as the one that came before the state’s highest court in 2009.

After 32 years of marriage and two children, Rudolph Pierce, a former federal magistrate and state court judge, and his wife, Carneice, divorced in 1999.

Pierce earned up to $570,000 as an attorney in private practice and as part of their separation agreement was ordered to pay $110,000 in alimony a year to his former wife.

Pierce pulled back on his workload and voluntarily retired in 2008 at age 65. A judge reduced the annual payment to $42,000, but Pierce pushed for alimony to be completely eliminated.

The state Supreme Judicial Court rejected Pierce’s request and ordered that the lower alimony payments continue, in part because his former wife lost her job and was not yet 65.

Justice Ralph Gants wrote that the spouse paying alimony can be expected to postpone retirement or find part-time work to help the receiving spouse “weather difficult financial circumstance.”

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