Typically when divorce is contemplated by one or both spouses, the actual complaint for divorce may not be filed in court for many months, or even at all. During that initial time period, the parties may be in negotiations or may have reached an informal agreement about custody, child support and spousal support for the time being. Ultimately in Massachusetts, if both parties are in agreement about the final terms of the divorce, the parties will file a joint petition with the court, making it unnecessary to ever have filed a complaint for divorce.
Enter the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011, Mass. Gen. L. c. 208 §§ 48-55, which takes effect on March 1, 2012. Among sweeping changes to current alimony practices, such as allowing for alimony to end when the recipient is cohabiting and setting an end date for general term alimony when the payor reaches full retirement age, the Alimony Reform Act sets durational limits for general term alimony based on the length of the marriage. Currently, the length of the marriage is not consistently defined. It may be defined in a variety of ways, such as when the parties began living apart or when one spouse files for divorce or the date of the divorce hearing. Under the Alimony Reform Act, the length of the marriage is defined as the number of months from the date of the marriage to the date of service of a complaint or petition for divorce or separate support. The Court will have the discretion to increase the duration of the marriage when there is evidence that the parties’ economic marital partnership began during their cohabitation period prior to the marriage.
Consider the difference between the duration of alimony for marriages 5 years or less, which cannot be greater than 50% of the months of the marriage and the duration of alimony for marriages 10 years or less, which cannot be greater than 60% of the months of the marriage. The best course of action will now depend on whether you are the recipient, who would benefit from a delay in the service of a complaint for divorce, or whether you are the payor, who would benefit from filing as soon as possible. These are not the only factors to consider and we are evaluating each client’s position on a case by case basis. We can offer creative solutions to determine what makes the best sense to accomplish the best overall result for our clients.