With the enactment and implementation of the Alimony Reform Act in 2012, a popular topic among divorcing spouses is whether one spouse will be required to pay the other spouse alimony. With the Alimony Reform Act, the guidelines and requirements for awarding alimony have changed. At the cornerstone of alimony is case law that has been on the books for at least 40 years, in which alimony is awarded where there is financial need for the recipient spouse, and the payor spouse has an ability to pay the support. This case law has not been changed by the Alimony Reform Act.
The Alimony Reform Act, rather, has clarified when alimony is appropriate, and how long an alimony order can last. Under M.G.L. c. 208 §53, the factors to be considered in awarding alimony are:
a court shall consider: the length of the marriage; age of the parties; health of the parties; income, employment and employability of both parties, including employability through reasonable diligence and additional training, if necessary; economic and non-economic contribution of both parties to the marriage; marital lifestyle; ability of each party to maintain the marital lifestyle; lost economic opportunity as a result of the marriage; and such other factors as the court considers relevant and material.
These factors are merely guidelines. The statute goes on to say that:
Except for reimbursement alimony or circumstances warranting deviation for other forms of alimony, the amount of alimony should generally not exceed the recipient’s need or 30 to 35 per cent of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes established at the time of the order being issued.
However, alimony does not operate within a vacuum. M.G.L. c. 208 §34 acknowledges that alimony and property division work closely together, and that a property division award can be lower for a spouse, if there is greater alimony awarded to that spouse, and vice versa.
Similarly, child support and alimony are inextricably related when there are unemancipated children of the marriage. Here, both the Alimony Reform Act and the Child Support Guidelines reference one another, due to their relation to one another. Under the Child Support Guidelines, alimony can be calculated before child support, or vice versa. The widely accepted practice amongst Family Law Practitioners is to calculate child support, and then calculate alimony, unless there is some financial benefit to calculating support in the reverse order. With child support, there is a legal presumption that only the first $250,000 in combined gross income of the parties will be used to calculate a child support order. That means, any gross income over $250,000 will be used (generally speaking) to calculate alimony.
As you can see, there are many different factors that are considered in determining whether or not there will be an alimony order in a divorce. Because alimony is so interrelated to property division and child support, it difficult to give a straight answer that applies to every case. Since these are complex issues, you should retain a knowledgeable Family Law attorney to help you through the divorce process to ensure that your rights are responsibilities are property protected and addressed in your divorce proceedings.