House Passes Alimony Reform

By Sarah Birnbaum

Jul. 21, 2011

BOSTON — The Massachusetts House has given preliminary approval to a sweeping overhaul of the state’s alimony laws.
Under the current system, alimony can be a lifelong financial obligation in Massachusetts. One ex–spouse may be required to support the other for life, regardless of the duration of the marriage or who ended it.
State Representative John Fernandes of Milford says changes to the law are long overdue.
“Alimony today in terms of that payment by one spouse to another is as I would describe it, upside down. It is antiquated and does not address or encourage the ending of the relationship and moving on into independent lives,” Fernandes said.
This bill would make dramatic reforms to the alimony system. It would end alimony payments at retirement age in most cases, cap how much money one ex-spouse pays the other based on the length of the marriage, and alter payments if an ex-spouse lives with a new partner for 3 months. The measure would also, in some circumstances, allow divorced couples to revisit their established alimony agreements.
The bill is supported by a broad coalition of legal groups including the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts.
But critics of similar measures in other states say the changes would be bad for spouses who have sacrificed their careers for their families, as well as damaging to low and middle income women. Men still account for more than 90% of alimony-payers in the United States, according to the US Census Bureau.
The bill now moves to the Senate.

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