When Can Alimony Be Modified Under the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act?

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When Can Alimony Be Modified Under the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act?

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Massachusetts divorce lawyer Josey Lyne Payne explores when alimony can be modified following a divorce under the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act (ARA).

In 2011, the Massachusetts legislature enacted the Alimony Reform Act (“the Act”), which became effective March 1, 2012. This new reform left parties and attorneys alike uncertain as to how this law would affect already existing alimony agreements and judgments (“judgments”), and specifically, whether or not past litigants would be able to make alimony modifications under the new Act.

In three recent cases: Chin v. Merriot; Doktor v. Doktor; and Rodman v. Rodman, each case involving an ex-spouse seeking retroactive application of the Act to terminate spousal support, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that terms of the Act did not apply retroactively to alimony judgments entered prior to the effective date of the Act. Each of the three cases involved separation agreements which were incorporated and merged (the judgment remains subject to the jurisdiction of the Probate & Family Court) into the judgment of divorce, which means the provisions of the agreement regarding alimony were potentially modifiable by their terms under the jurisdiction of the Probate & Family Court.

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The modifiability of alimony often depends on the language of the divorce agreement.

In each of the three, the obligor/payor (the person responsible for paying) sought to terminate his alimony payment obligations based on the Act’s language that alimony “shall terminate upon the payor attaining full retirement age.” G.L. c. 208, §49(d)f). In Chin v. Merriot, the ex-husband also sought termination based on the Act’s language that alimony, “shall be suspended, reduced or terminated upon cohabitation of the recipient spouse…” G.L. c.208, §49(d).  The Supreme Judicial Court delivered a unequivocal conclusion in all three cases:  the retirement and cohabitation provisions of the Act do not apply retroactively, that is to divorces which occurred prior to March, 1, 2012, even if the alimony provision was merged into the judgment.

In the wake of these three highly anticipated decisions, it suggests that a party to a divorce which was final prior to the effective date of the Act, March 1, 2012, who seeks to terminate alimony payments under the new retirement and cohabitation provisions can safely be advised that the chances of the termination are likely non-existent.  Despite that, an obligor who can prove a material change in circumstances may still apply to the court through a Complaint for Modification for a reduction  or termination of alimony payments, if the alimony provision has merged in to the judgment, subject to the Probate & Family Court’s continued jurisdiction.

The good news, is that these decisions have provided attorneys with a circumscribed framework within which they can advise clients seeking to modify or terminate their alimony payments in reliance upon the basis of retirement or co-habitation, and moreover, to contest duration of alimony for divorces entered prior to March 1, 2012 where the alimony merged.

Unchanged by the Act was the language contained in §4(c), which advises that no litigant may seek a modification of an existing alimony judgment in which the parties have agreed said judgment is not modifiable, and which “survive” the judgment.  This unfortunately places litigants who negotiated prior to the Act and its new provisions in a permanently unfavorable position, compared to those litigants who negotiated merged pre-Act judgments, and those in divorces occurring after March 1, 2012.

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About the Author: Josey Lyne Payne is a Massachusetts divorce lawyer and Massachusetts family law attorney for Lynch & Owens, located in Hingham, Massachusetts.

Schedule a free consultation with Josey Lyne Payne today at (781) 741-5000 or send her an email:

DisclaimerThe information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. You are invited to contact our office to discuss alimony modifications and your case. Contacting the office does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to the office until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established. This blog is considered an advertisement for Lynch & Owens, P.C. The Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct broadly govern all advertisements and communications made by attorneys and law firms in the Commonwealth. Generally, legal websites and any other content published on the internet by lawyers are considered a type of communication and an advertisement, according to the Comments to Rule 7.2.

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By | 2017-04-04T09:24:25+00:00 June 23rd, 2015|Categories: Alimony, Divorce, Family Law, Updates|Tags: , |Comments Off on When Can Alimony Be Modified Under the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act?

About the Author:

Josey Lyne Payne is a Senior Associate at Lynch & Owens, and is a frequent contributor to the Lynch & Owens Blog on subjects including Massachusetts divorce, child custody and support, domestic violence, equity and estates litigation, and complex financial probate and family litigation. Attorney Payne can be reached by phone at (781) 741-5000 or email at jpayne@lynchowens.com, or visit her bio page at lynchowens.com/attorneys/.