Breaking News on Alimony Law!

Hi there,

The Supreme Judicial Court has just rendered its decision on the modification of judgements on alimony for cases that predate the Alimony Reform Act. Decisions on three cases, Chin v. Merriot (SJC 11715), Rodman v. Rodman (SJC 11726), and Doktor v. Doktor (SJC 11727), were handed down from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today.

My quick read of the decisions indicates that the 2011 Alimony Reform Act does not apply retroactively to cases filed before the law went into effect on March 1, 2012. Additionally, the mere fact of either cohabitation OR reaching retirement age alone is NOT sufficient to modify alimony. There still needs to be a material change in circumstances.

If, however, the durational limits of alimony under the act have been met, then the law applies.

Stand by for a longer, more “lawyerly” blog on this next week. I’m off today and going riding!

Best,
Nancy

1 Comment


  1. I believe the SJC got it wrong. Are they are essentially saying that the only way someone can get relief under an existing alimony order (prior to March 1, 2012) is if it ONLY exceeds the durational limits outlined in the new act?

    This is clearly wrong, and was not the intention of the alimony
    task force or the legislature, and is not the only way an existing award can
    terminate.

    They also failed to address what “as otherwise provided for in this act” represents.

    One of the PROVISIONS of the act was calling ALL EXISTING AWARDS
    PRIOR TO THE ACT “GENERAL TERM ALIMONY”. That provision, allows
    the General Law that was changed by the act to be applied “today” or
    “prospectively” to those orders.

    The question of fairness is irrelevant. The questions is, what does it say and is it Legal?

    But it also begs the question, why are they getting it wrong?

    What did the legislature have to write to make it clearer?

    Is the SJC saying that all of this language about prospective application and otherwise provided for in this act means nothing?

    If that was the case, the language could or should have been: All existing
    awards will stand as written and will end upon the terms therein, or may terminate
    if they exceed the durational limits set forth in this act upon a request for
    modification without a need of a change in material circumstances. (or words to
    that effect)

    If the law were to be retroactive, (which it is not) it would be causing an impact to an existing order BEFORE the act took effect. It clearly is not doing that.

    For example, as in my case, my order stated it “shall not end upon remarriage”. This order was issued in Feb of 09. My ex got remarried in Aug 2010. The law goes in to effect in 2012. If I tried claiming my ex was not entitled to the alimony she received between 8/2010 and 3/1/2012 would be an example of RETROACTIVE application. During that time, the old law was legal, and the order was legal.

    However, moving forward or prospectively, my alimony, by operation of law, should have ended on March 1, 2012. To further this point, there is no check box on the alimony modification form to select she is remarried, because the law states it SHALL end upon remarriage.

    * I did not have a surviving agreement; my stip was based on temporary orders, and did not include death or remarriage. The judge added that verbiage to my divorce decree.

    I’ve tried to make my case to my judge, but he is ignoring the fact that my alimony is now “General Term”, he actually stated in his decision:

    “Although the Divorce Judgment predates the Alimony Reform Act, the alimony entered in the Judgment is most similar to reimbursement alimony. It was not intended to be modifiable and was for a fixed amount for a fixed period of time.”

    This is a clear error of law, but without appealing it I cannot do anything to get out of it.

    There is no standard of similarity in the law by which he can make that statement, the law does not provide for it. Further, even if my judge had a time machine and traveled into the future, found out there was going to be a new classification of alimony called “reimbursement alimony”, and stated that in my divorce decree in 2009, by operation of law, it STILL became “General Term Alimony” when the act took effect.

    By the way, the new law and new judgments are already “prospective” by their
    nature, so that word cannot apply to new cases after the act. It is specifically applying to existing cases before the act took effect.

    Applying the general law prospectively (now) to an existing order of “General Term Alimony”, would end or possibly end it if the requirements are met. (Cohabitation, retirement, material change of circumstance, death, remarriage, no surviving agreement, etc.)

    Sincerely,
    The Disappointed.

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