Alimony Reform Act–A General Overview

Massachusetts lawmakers put alimony reform laws into effect several years ago, changing the landscape of the way the state courts handled spousal support. Some of the language of the reform act is different than that of comparable laws.

WGBH published an interesting retrospective piece on the Alimony Reform Act, explaining the way legal interpretation changed over time. The retroactive effects of the act on existing alimony agreements were a significant subject of debate, with a focus on the section about retirement age and how that plays into durational limits.

One major element of the new law is that a supporting spouse may usually cease payments upon retirement. According to the WGBH article, lawyers were split relatively evenly on whether or not this should be applied to existing agreements. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that the section on retirement was not applicable to agreements made before 2012, when the alimony bill became law.

To understand the significance of this decision, it would help to know some of the language of this particular law. The authors of the law included several definitions in the bill. Among them, the following are most important to understand the scope of this Supreme Court decision:

  • General term alimony
  • Alimony
  • Full retirement age

“General term alimony” and “alimony” are related terms. They are both spousal support payments but the former is, by definition, a periodic payment. To contrast, courts might also order one-time payments. The law as it is written on the website of the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts states specifically that alimony requires:

  • A spouse able to pay
  • A reasonable time limit
  • An order by the court

Full retirement age might be different in each situation, according to the law. However, it does state that early retirement does not qualify a spouse to stop paying alimony. The relationship between spousal support, retirement and the recent alimony reforms is just one aspect of a complicated new set of family law rules governing Massachusetts marriages. 

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