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Some basics of Massachusetts alimony

When high-asset couples divorce, alimony often becomes a source of contention and worry. Spouses with high incomes worry about potentially having to shell out substantial amounts for an indefinite period while lower earners may wonder how they will meet financial obligations.

Massachusetts law sets forth some clear rules that limit the duration of alimony. However, many cases still present complicated problems and questions as to the right way to determine a proper amount. In addition, the couple may agree to any terms they want, even if those differ substantially from what a judge would decide. So long as the agreement is valid, courts will typically enforce alimony provisions.

Direct correlation to length of marriage

Generally, the law relates the duration of alimony payments to the length of the marriage. A court may but does not have to order indefinite alimony if the marriage lasted 20 years or longer. For marriages lasting between 15 and 20 years, alimony payments should continue for no more than 80 percent of the length of the marriage. If the couple was married between 15 and 10 years, the court reduces duration to 70 percent of the length of the marriage; if the marriage lasted between five and 10 years, duration becomes 60 percent, and no more than 50% for marriages lasting less than 5 years. Thus, when a couple is married for five years, a spouse will typically pay alimony for no longer than two and a half years. In some cases, judges may be able to deviate from these parameters if they deem it necessary, but this is not common.

When alimony can end before its time

At any point, alimony can terminate if the recipient remarries. Some couples choose to agree to reduce alimony in the event of remarriage rather than terminating it completely. The law also recognizes that many people may share a household and finances with another person for many years without entering into formal marriage. Thus, courts can suspend alimony, reduce it or end it if the recipient moves in with a romantic partner and stays for at least three months; it can return to the status quo if the recipient then moves out before the initially set end date for alimony payments. On the other side, the law also provides for cessation of alimony once the paying ex-spouse reaches retirement age for social security purposes.


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