The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court added new clarification today in its opinion in the Holmes case (see full opinion here).
In Holmes, Husband was ordered to pay temporary alimony during the pendency of the divorce modification case. The SJC held that the 2 years Husband paid “temporary alimony” (during the pendency of the modification case) would not be deducted from the total duration of his alimony obligation.
Under the Alimony Reform laws, presumptive maximum durations are established for a spouse’s alimony obligation.Length of Marriage Duration of Alimony Payments 0 to 5 years 50% length of the marriage 5 to 10 years 60% length of the marriage 10 to 15 years 70% length of the marriage 15 to 20 years 80% length of the marriage 20+ years Indefinite Duration
Additionally, under the statute, the “clock” on the length of the marriage stops at the time a spouse files for divorce. This provision of the statute has led many practitioners to interpret the law to mean that after the divorce is filed, the “clock” for alimony starts. *In other words, if after 15 years of marriage a spouse files for divorce and the divorce proceeds takes 2 years, following the divorce there would potentially be a maximum of 8.5 years of alimony (15 years times 70% = 10.5 years; less 2 years = 8.5 years remaining).*
However the SJC stated clearly that “Temporary alimony is not general term alimony…” Technically, General Term Alimony cannot be ordered until the time of entry of a Separation Agreement or final Judgment. Thus the SJC concluded that the duration of alimony would not start until that time.
Another interesting conclusion made by the SJC is that the duration limits set by the statute (listed above) are simply presumptive maximums, and a judge in his/her discretion may order a lower duration of alimony based on the G.L. c. 208, section 53 factors. The court also stated that in the case where a spouse has unnecessarily prolonged a divorce proceeding for the purpose of extending the alimony obligation, a judge may consider the duration of temporary alimony in determining the duration of general term alimony (and presumably order a lower duration of alimony than the maximum listed above).
It is great to get this case opinion from the SJC to help clarify the new alimony laws. The decision further emphasizes the need to consult with a qualified divorce lawyer regarding complex issues of support and its impact on the entire divorce process.