Massachusetts divorce lawyer Jason V. Owens reviews the House’s unanimous approval of the Massachusetts Re-Reform Bill.
JUNE 22, 2016 – BOSTON – That didn’t take long. After writing this morning about a potential bottleneck preventing a vote on the Massachusetts Alimony Re-Reform Act – also known as the Massachusetts House Bill 4110, “An Act reforming alimony in the Commonwealth” – we can now report that the bill was approved by the Massachusetts House this afternoon following a unanimous 156-0 vote. The bill’s passage followed a hearing in which the bill’s sponsor, John V. Fernandes (D-Milford) spoke extensively about the bill. Fernandes explained that the bill “seeks to correct a series of Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) decisions” affecting the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act (ARA) of 2011.
Fernandes said that in three decisions entered in 2015, the SJC “felt it was not clear that [the ARA was] intended to include retirement and cohabitation” provisions terminating alimony for pre-2012 divorces. The new bill, Fernandes said, would make the ARA applicable to all alimony orders, including pre-2012 orders.
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Fernandes reassured the House that the new bill would not “somehow change the law” under the ARA, nor it would result in an “unquestioned cutting off” of alimony for former spouses. “We made it very clear that the court has the option to find that alimony should not terminate upon the retirement of the payor spouse,” Fernandes said. “The standard we set [for continuing alimony] was very low; it was nothing more than ‘good cause shown’.”
Fernandes said the ARA is “recognized as a model nationwide”, and that the new bill would simply make the ARA applicable to pre-2012 alimony orders. Prior to the 2015 SJC decisions, Fernandes said that in Massachusetts, “trial courts were almost universally agreeing with the intent” of the ARA, which was not limited to pre-2012 alimony orders. The intent of the ARA drafters, Fernandes said, was for the termination provisions to apply to all alimony orders, including those entered before 2012. The SJC decisions, Fernandes said, were inconsistent with the intent of the ARA’s drafters.
Specifically, Fernandez said the bill would expand the ARA pre-2012 alimony orders and provide for termination of alimony upon a paying spouse’s retirement or upon a recipient’s spouse’s cohabitation for all orders. Representative Sheila C. Harrington (R-Groton) also spoke in favor of the bill, telling reps that she operated a private family law practice where she has seen the effects of the SJC decisions first hand. “I think it’s important that we clarify this for the judiciary,” Harrington said. “Unfortunately, people are spending a lot of money” on alimony litigation in the wake of the SJC decisions.
The next step for the bill is for it to be offered for consideration before the Massachusetts Senate. We caught up with bill proponent Steve Hitner of Mass Alimony Reform this morning. Hitner said he has spoken with Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg (D-Amherst) about the bill, and Hitner believes the bill will likely “sail through the senate” at some point in July.
The final bill, as amended (H4427), can be found here:
UPDATE (7/13/16): The bill, H.4427, is presently one of dozens pending before the state Senate Ways and Means Committee, which is chaired by Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). No word yet on when the Senate is likely to vote.
UPDATE 2 (8/3/16): The bill did not receive a vote in the state senate, meaning that it will not pass until 2017 at the earliest. More coverage here.
Think you have an alimony case in Massachusetts? Estimate the amount and duration of alimony in your case with the Lynch & Owens Massachusetts Alimony Calculator:
About the Author: Jason V. Owens is a Massachusetts divorce lawyer and Massachusetts family law attorney for Lynch & Owens, located in Hingham, Massachusetts.
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