We now have been working with the new alimony law for almost six months. What have we learned? Here are my thoughts:
The new alimony law has resulted in a sea change. The notion of lifetime alimony in Massachusetts has gone the way of the Dodo bird. Interestingly, the wave of new modifications based upon the cohabitation provisions of the agreement have not really materialized. We have had a couple of cases in six months, but not that much activity. Maybe it means that there aren’t that many people receiving alimony while living with someone in a committed relationship. There are a few cases, which is why the outrage. I am not a social scientist, but I just don’t think there are that many situations where cohabitation has created a gross injustice. In those cases where there is a significant impact, maybe people are just setting up separate residences, or not bothering to co-habit at all. Or maybe they are marrying their significant others, which would not be a bad thing. I think the change in the law regarding cohabitation has made it something that everyone is now aware of and there will be fewer situations where this will come up as time goes on because people will be reluctant to cohabit if it matters. I think it is fair to say that the cohabitation provisions took some people by surprise.
It is too early to know whether there will be a lot of modifications based upon the new durational requirements. The impression I get is that in long term marriages, judges will probably continue to do their best to protect people who were relying on lifetime alimony after a long term marriage, by exercising their discretion under the statute. We have resolved a number of modifications even though the statute provides that these cases can not be brought until next year, because it is easy to anticipate what will happen and the clients all agreed to get it done now.
Finally, I think that contracts that parties are signing now are careful to include references to the new law. For example, by contract, the parties can either incorporate the grounds for deviation in their agreements, or ignore them, and similarly, by contract the provisions relating to cohabitation can also be incorporated or not in a written agreement. I am impressed with the thoughtfullness of some practitioners regarding how they deal with the new law in their contracts, and suspect that we are all still learning.
More to come