Massachusetts divorce lawyer Jason V. Owens updates readers on the Alimony Re-Reform Act, which is awaiting a vote in the Massachusetts legislature.
Proponents of Massachusetts House Bill 4110, “An Act reforming alimony in the Commonwealth” (also known as the Alimony Re-Reform Act ), are urging supporters to contact legislators to encourage a vote on the bill, as Massachusetts inches closer towards the end of its summer legislative session. We spoke yesterday with bill proponent Steve Hitner of Mass Alimony Reform, who indicated that the ARRA was one of more than a hundred bills currently clogged in a legislative bottleneck in the House Committee on Bills in the Third Reading. The Committee is the final staging ground for bills awaiting a final vote in the Massachusetts house.
Hitner acknowledged that it is challenging for advocates to educate the public about the twisting path that bills follow through the legislature. He said advocates must vocalize support for a bill to the members and leadership of each new committee as the bill transitions through the legislative process.
Hitner indicated that the ARRA is not “stalled” in Committee, but expressed concern that Chairman Speliotis must divide his attention between hundreds of bills as the session hurtles towards the summer recess, which starts on July 31, 2016. “If the bill does not receive a vote before the session ends,” Hitner said, “it could die on the vine.”
For context, Hitner provided a quote from an unnamed house member, who sent Hitner an email updating him on the ARRA’s status earlier this week:
It is on the calendar, but it is still in third reading. Many times, a bill being on the calendar is just procedural – meaning that it got a first and second reading on the floor, but has not progressed past third reading. When a bill has progressed past third reading it is then ready for debate/passage on the floor
There are hundreds of bills on the calendar each week from various committees for consideration. I can assure you that our office have been in contact with the Speaker’s office about this bill and many others the last few weeks. Hopefully, I will have an update for you soon.
There are presently 321 bills awaiting action from the House Committee on Bills in the Third Reading, according to the Committee’s website. Recent headlines suggest the state’s budget woes will consume much of the time and attention of lawmakers during the busy July session. Leaders are scrambling to address an unexpected $26 million shortfall in sales tax revenue and a $750 million statewide budget gap, leaving less oxygen for family law related bills, which also include the Massachusetts Child-Centered Family Law, a bill that seeks to revise child custody laws in Massachusetts by encouraging “shared physical custody” between parents.
Hitner urged supporters of the ARRA to respectfully contact Rep. Speliotis’s office via phone or email and urge the Committee to schedule H 4110 for a vote before the full house.
The ARRA is seen as a response to a trio of Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) decisions that rendered portions of the 2011 Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act inapplicable to alimony orders arising out of pre-2012 divorces. Opponents of the ARRA include prominent Boston family law attorney Maureen McBrien, of Brick, Sugarman, Jones & McBrien LLP, who described the three SJC decisions in an April article for Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly (available in full via Linkedin):
The SJC decisions brought clarity where there previously existed debate amongst the bar and judiciary as to the correct interpretation of the act. We now know that all the provisions of alimony reform apply to new agreements. With respect to old agreements, only durational limits apply.
The decisions were a reasoned, balanced and thoughtful interpretation of the law. In my opinion, it was the only interpretation that was logical based on the language of section 4, which was drafted with input from alimony task force members on both sides of the issue and passed by legislators.
But there was intense backlash from payors and some members of the bar who insisted the SJC interpretation was not what was intended, resulting in the legislative action. Critics spoke of the havoc in the courts following the decisions in Chin, Rodman and Doktor — havoc that will be further perpetuated if the legislative amendment passes at these very critics’ behest.
Referring to the H 4034, the predecessor bill to H 4110, McBrien expressed opposition to the ARRA:
If passed, Bill 4034 would pull the rug out from under the SJC’s decisions, as well as from thousands of recipients who entered into separation agreements prior to March 1, 2012, in reliance on a different set of laws and an expectation of continuing alimony as bargained for in their agreements, subject to the payor demonstrating an actual material and substantial change in circumstances.
There has to be a balance between the rights and obligations of both payors and recipients, a balance that has been upended at this so-called “public” hearing.
Bill 4034, now H. 4110 and entitled “An act reforming alimony in the Commonwealth,” is moving swiftly: It arrived at the House Committee on Steering, Policy and Scheduling on March 21.
If you hear any tips about the bill’s progress, let us know. Check back frequently, as we will post what we hear.
We just heard from Steve Hitner of Mass Alimony Reform, who writes:
I just received this from the State House.
The Hearing is TODAY, June 22, 2016!!!!!!!
I apologize for the extremely short notice, but I was informed by a member of the Speaker’s staff last night that the House will be taking up the alimony bill (H.4110) today in formal session.
The Chairman will be filing an amendment to the bill with the language the group agreed upon in our final meeting. Formal session begins at 11:00am with roll calls beginning at 1:00pm.
Again, I apologize for the very short notice as I know some of you would like to be present for the debate. I hope those who wish to be present can still make it.
Feel free to call or email me with any questions after 9am when I am in the office.
The Formal session begins at 11:00am with roll calls beginning at 1:00pm.
You can watch the live Hearing by clicking here.
We gather that Keith is Hitner’s contact in the Massachusetts House. We’ll report on the results of the vote when we have them.
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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