The SJC Strikes Back: Lifetime Alimony Returns

Bad News If You Were Divorced Before March 1, 2012

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Building

Remember the relief when permanent alimony was ended by a unanimous vote of the legislature and signed by Governor Patrick? Alimony payers rushed to modify their alimony agreements as permitted under the new law.

Especially important to long-term alimony payers (married 20 plus years) was the retirement provision to end permanent alimony. The SJC in three January 2015 decisions (Chin v Merriot, Rodman v Rodman, Doktor v Doktor) ended the retirement provision for long-term alimony payers who were divorced before March 1, 2012 (the date the new law went in to effect). Only Alimony payers divorced after March 1, 2012 receive the full benefits of alimony reform. Worse, alimony termination modifications initiated under the reform law may be rescinded by a court action if requested by the former alimony recipient.

SJC Overturns Clear, Unambiguous Intent of Legislature

The Alimony Reform Law is clear, "Once issued, general term alimony orders shall terminate upon the payer attaining the full retirement age." [M.G.L. Chapter 208, section 49 (f)]. How did the SJC decide to only apply this law to alimony payers who divorced after March 1, 2012?

The judges looked at the the uncodified sections of the law and interpreted them to fit their decision. But their decision was not the intention of the drafters of the law. Steve Hitner, President of Mass Alimony Reform was on the legislative task force that drafted the Alimony Reform law. The law was intended by the legislators to apply to all alimony payers, not just the payers who divorced after March 1, 2012 [refer to the links in the sidebar for more detailed legal analyses].

A Recent Appeals Court Decision Goes Further To End Reform Benefits

But, it gets worse! In an unpublished Appeals Court decision in the case of Lawrence Cole v. Carolyn A. Cole, No.14-p-466, dated March 9, 2015, the judges wrote in footnote 6, "The sole exception to the prospective application of the act concerns the durational limits as set forth in G.L. c. 2098, s. 49.

What are the implications of this Appeals Court decision? Does the decision mean that the income protections for "Second wives" no longer applies for divorces before March 1, 2012? Remember, protection of "second wives" income from alimony payments to first wives was a major reason for alimony reform. Secondly, does this Appeals Court decision mean the co-habitation section no longer allows for alimony modifications, too?

Take Action: A legislative Fix is Needed Now!

Now that the SJC has created new case law that reinterprets the alimony reform law, email and call your state legislators, today.

Massachusetts Alimony Reform

Massachusetts Alimony Reform has been working for more than 10 years to bring peace, independence, and self-sufficiency for the parties to divorce. We have been instrumental in making the public and legislators aware of alimony horror stories. Our multi-year efforts culminated in the Alimony Reform Act becoming law on September 26, 2011.

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