I have a few updates on what is happening in three cases that are testing the limits of the Alimony Reform Act.
Much of the press and the writings about the act have been positive. This is partly driven by fathers rights organizations and organizations like Mass Alimony Reform. They are supported by some of the most prominent practitioners in family law in Massachusetts who have written briefs supporting a very broad interpretation of the law.
I am not an advocate of the draconian choices propounded by the proponents of the act. It seems eminently fair that alimony should be tied to the length of the marriage. It is murkier, however when the case involves a long term marriage with a post-retirement divorce and alimony judgement and the payer’s request to end alimony as a result of the Alimony Reform Act. There are innumerable cases in the Probate and Family Court awaiting determination of just this issue. Three cases which were decided by the Probate Courts have been taken by the Supreme Judicial Court (hereinafter the SJC) for decision. The cases are Chester Chin vs. Edith E Merriot, Roberta Rodman vs. George Rodman, and Joseph W. Doktor vs. Dorothy A. Doktor. Having read the briefs on the cases on appeal I think that the proponents of a strict interpretation of the statute to be the most convincing. Particularly clear and straightforward is the brief written by Edith Merriot’s counsel, Leslie Powers.
The central issues in all 3 cases deal with whether or not the language of the act allows modification to terminate alimony, (other than for the durational requirements, where the ability to terminate is clear) in agreements approved by the courts before the Alimony Reform Act was instituted. There were a number of amicus briefs. These are briefs filed on behalf of one position or another, which the Court asks for when the issue is important. Also on appeal is the question of when and how does cohabitation end alimony under the Act.
The SJC will render its ruling sometime six to nine months from now. In the meantime, decisions on cases of this type in the Probate and Family Court will likely be on hold.