This case involves an 21-year marriage in which Husband was the primary wage earner and Wife, excluding a brief stint in the late 80s, worked solely in the home. During the marriage, Husband invested in and obtained a greater interest in his dental practice – creating a difficult to estimate income stream which could continue to grow in the future. The judge issued a “self-modifying” alimony order ($8,500 monthly, plus 30% of all Husband’s income above $250,000, to be reported by Husband to Wife on a quarterly basis). Husband appealed the alimony order, arguing that it did not comply with the Alimony Reform Act.
The SJC agreed, holding that the award of $8,500 a month was to high, because it exceeded the 30%-35% presumptive maximum without any findings of Wife’s need (alimony “should generally not exceed the recipient’s need or 30 to 35 per cent of the different between the parties’ gross incomes.” G. L. c. 208, § 53(b)). The court also rejected the “self-modifying” portion of the order. They provided two reasons for rejecting this portion: (1) modifications must be based on judicial determinations supported by subsidiary findings of fact which show one party’s need and the other’s ability to pay, and this order was not based on a judicial determination, supported by subsidiary findings of fact, of an increase in the Wife’s need accompanied by the Husband’s ability to pay; and (2) the order is inequitable because it requires only Husband to disclose quarterly income, without requiring Wife to account for changes in her income which would affect her need for alimony.
Finally, the trial judge’s order set the alimony to terminate at Husband’s “retirement as defined in the [alimony reform act].” As there is not definition of “retirement” in the act, the SJC vacated this portion in order to have the point clarified on remand.
Link to the Full Case: Hassey vs. Hassey