The term “alimony” is probably one of the most frightening terms to a spouse who is involved in divorce litigation. I have represented both men and women, due to the success of their respective careers, who find that when he/she divorce, there may be an obligation to support not only the children of the marriage but also the spouse.
Believe it or not, sometimes there is something positive that can come from the dreaded alimony scourge. For individuals who are very successful in their income levels, paying child support alone means that for every dollar that they pay out, they must firstly pay the state tax and then the federal tax on each dollar. The only benefit to be garnered from a straight child support is the dependency deductions which loses its significance the higher your income is. But if the order for support that you are under an obligation to pay is partially alimony or totally alimony, you can deduct that amount which is alimony, dollar for dollar from your gross income. As a result you will reduce your taxable income and shift the tax burden to your spouse who would probably be paying taxes at a lower tax rate.
While this information might be interesting to some of you, the information is little comfort for the real reason why people abhor the concept of alimony which is WHEN WILL IT END! According to the Massachusetts and federal law, alimony is periodic payments made between divorcing or divorced spouses for a period of time which concludes upon: a. the death of the payor; b. the death of the payee; or c. the remarriage of the payee.
I have had many people who have consulted and/or retained my services to try to end alimony. Oftentimes, the agreement that was signed at the time of the divorce does not specify when alimony should end other than the three described events above. Certainly, if a case goes to trial, the probate court judge has the authority to conclude alimony for good absent the agreement of the parties based only upon one of those three events, whichever comes first.
I have consulted with people in their seventies and eighties who as a result of the divorce judgment they are subject to, there is no sooner termination date. I will tell you that there are many bills in the legislature dealing with setting limitations on the duration of alimony. The Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers to which I have belonged since October 6, 1990 provided a bill based upon a great deal of research and industry of our membership, but thus far the legislature has not acted on it.
So what is it that I tell my clients, geriatric or not, who want to end alimony? As a result of the recent passage of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011, much of the ambiguity regarding the end of alimony payments is now clarified. On September 26, 2011 Governor Deval Patrick signed into law the Alimony Reform Act of 2011. On September 23, 2011 I attended a seminar sponsored by the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and Flaschner Judicial Institute at Suffolk University Law School to learn about the new and unique terms now comprising the word alimony. Alimony is now designated into four separate categories consisting of: General Term Alimony, Rehabilitative Alimony, Reimbursement Alimony, and Transitional Alimony. While these four categories are not foreign under the law, these categories as well as the defined length of time that one can receive or be obligated to pay alimony is unique under the law. Since the early days of Massachusetts incorporation and John Adams’ writing the first alimony statute has such a change in alimony come about in this Commonwealth.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss with you what affect this statute will have upon you. Whether you are currently paying alimony or receiving alimony pursuant to a probate court judgment, or you are currently litigating the issue of alimony, this new law can have an impact upon your situation. If I can be of service to you, please do not hesitate to call me.