Till Death Do Us Part: Take 2

Hi there,

As Massachusetts considers refining the law on alimony, the public commentary is huge.  It has made me think through exactly what I think about the current law and the proposed changes.  I have initially addressed this in the blog, as I recognize that making alimony payments (or not making them) is one of the truly hard and hot button issues in divorce.  There are both payers and payees who have been deeply hurt and aggrieved by the system.  Most of these individuals may well find this post unpalatable.  As I think about that, I am not sure anyone finds having to pay alimony a good thing.  It is however, often a necessary evil, and as an advocate if I represent the spouse who is paying, I try to get the amount and time frame as minimal as possible.   Alternatively, when I am the advocate for the recipient, I try to get the amount and time frame as broad as possible.  That is the joy of being a litigator – you get to argue both sides of every question, sometimes on the same day.

Joking aside, I firmly believe that setting parameters for judges to follow and then allowing them discretion is the fairest way to go.  Does this mean all will be treated fairly?  Of course not!  The risks of litigation, bad lawyering, bad judging, or just plain bad luck, are why I consistently recommend that litigants settle out of court.

However, a rigid formulaic approach to alimony would result in far more examples of unfairness than the suggested reform, as approved by the Boston Bar Association.

The suggested reform does allow Judges the authority to set a time frame for the duration of alimony, which had not previously been the case.  If passed, this should have a salutary effect, both on the results of litigation and on the terms in agreements.






  1. Hi Nancy,
    I’m a male with a non-working spouse and a single child in college, and am considering divorce. This is simply due to the fact that our marriage is devoid of love and compatibility and has been for many, many years. I have been put off divorce by the unending stream of horror stories involving alimony – particularly in Massachusetts. My great fear is that I will be forced to live in near poverty for the rest of my life should I divorce (I earn 100k per year, but as a software developer that could easily go lower and typically has been lower through much of my career. I’m also subject to layoff on a moment’s notice).
    From my standpoint, 1785 looks pretty good. Why should our divorce free her from the need to work the rest of her life, as it appears our divorce will under current law?
    Thanks for your considered response,

  2. Hi Jack,
    I am not sure what you mean by “1785 looks pretty good,” but I absolutely understand your frustration. If your wife has any marketable skills, she should have income attributed to her and possibly, you could get an agreement that allows your alimony to be a percentage of your income rather than a sum certain, although that has its own problems. I never advise folks to get a divorce but I do advise them to seek counseling so they can decide in a helpful setting what they really want and need to do.
    Good luck.

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