The Need For Savings & Alimony Orders

Family Law - Alimony

When one thinks of alimony under Massachusetts, one general thinks about the ability of the Payor to pay and the needs of the Recipient to receive alimony. The ability to pay is determined by the income and expenses (and occasionally assets) of the Payor and the need is based on the expenses, income and possibly assets of the Recipient. With expenses, it had generally been to think about the usual and ordinary expenses of the Recipient. That changed with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s (“SJC”) recent decision in Openshaw v. Openshaw. This case changes how family law attorneys need to think about alimony in that we now need to consider the issue of the need of the Recipient for support to accumulate savings. The issue in Openshaw was whether a probate and family judge was right to factor in a divorcing couple’s practice of saving money during their marriage when the Court made an alimony award in that case.

Under Massachusetts law, alimony is “the payment of support from a spouse, who has the ability to pay, to a spouse in need of support for a reasonable length of time, under a court order.” The Massachusetts alimony statute in part provides that a judge must consider both the marital lifestyle of the parties and the ability of each party to maintain the marital lifestyle when determining the appropriate form of alimony, and the amount and duration of alimony in a case. Since 2012, there have statutory designated durational limits on alimony based on the length of the marriage.

But what constitutes the “marital lifestyle” in the context of a divorce and alimony case? Since the SJC’s ruling in Young v. Young in 2017, “marital lifestyle” has been defined as the standard of living of the Parties at the time of their separation. Openshaw further defines the plain meaning of “marital lifestyle” to be “the characteristic way the couple chose to live their life during the marriage, including the typical way they allocated their income. Traditional considerations for determining lifestyle included things such as going out for dinner, type of clothing purchased, vacations, summer homes, choice of vehicles and other luxury goods. Openshaw, however, broadens this definition to include, when appropriate, regular contributions to savings and how the parties allocated their income. In other words, if the couple used one spouse’s income for their current bills and the other spouse’s income for savings or luxuries only, that can be considered when making a determination of the need for and amount of alimony.

The holding by the SJC was that where, as in that case, a married couple had an established practice of saving during the marriage, “a judge properly may consider such saving as a component of the couple’s marital lifestyle in awarding alimony.” If you have questions about whether you might be obligated to pay alimony or eligible to receive spousal support, please contact experienced family law attorney Eric Schutzbank for a consultation.

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