First SJC Clarification of the New Alimony Reform Act

Hi there,

spring dogwoodsWith the coming of spring comes a fresh interpretation of some relatively new legislation that has been closely watched by attorneys around Massachusetts. Any new law will require interpretation by the courts, going up through the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), before lawyers are sure of how the ambiguities in any new law will be treated. The Alimony Reform Act is no exception. The law went into effect March of 2012, and the first appeal of a case has wound its way through the system. Through Holmes v. Holmes, we now have some clarity on what has been a common yet unclear issue. It is also noteworthy that the SJC took the case from the Appeals Court without waiting for them to decide. This is undoubtedly a reflection by the SJC on the significance of the issue.

Usually folks who will be receiving alimony after their divorce judgement also have been the recipients of temporary alimony. In a lot of cases divorces can take well over a year from first time in court for temporary orders until final agreement or judgement. The first occasion sets temporary alimony, and the second sets alimony under the categories laid forth in the Alimony Reform Act. Often the issue of whether or not temporary alimony counts towards the time frames under the Alimony Reform Act can be hotly argued.

The Holmes decision makes it clear that temporary alimony is to be differentiated from alimony under the Alimony Reform Act. Absent special facts, it should not be counted in the final calculation of time frames. This case also makes clear that judges do have some discretion to differ from the time frames. This will, no doubt, provide fertile ground for lawyers to argue about in the future.

Enjoy the lovely spring weather!