I usually take no position on pending legislation but the proposed changes to the alimony law will adversely affect thousands of pre-existing divorce agreements. If you can, please take the time to read this update and consider calling or writing your State Representative and Senator. There is a lot of well organized force on the other side.
As an update to an earlier blog post, the recent challenge to the Alimony Reform Act continues to move through the legislature. Bill H4110 is currently pending before the full House of Representatives. On April 19, 2016, the House Committee of Steering, Policy and Scheduling reported Bill H4110 to the next sitting of the House for vote. That same day, the House completed a second reading of the Bill, ordering it to a third reading. This is standard procedure and means that the Bill is eligible for a vote by the full House at any time during the remainder of this legislative session. The last day for formal sessions of this legislative session is July 31, 2016, which is also the last day for recorded votes.
Technically, the last day of this legislative session is January 3, 2017. Although it is possible that a bill could move forward after the last day for formal sessions (July 31, 2016) until the last day of the legislative session (January 3, 2017), it is unlikely because it requires unanimous consent to suspend the rules to take up a bill. And, historically, bills taken up after July 31 are usually limited to non-controversial matters.
If the House engrosses H4110, the Bill would go to the Senate for review and voting. If the Senate amends the House version, the House and Senate would need to align the two versions. If they align or the Senate passes the House version, the Bill would be up for enactment in both branches and, if passed, would go to Governor Baker for his signature. Importantly, both branches would need to pass the Bill before the end of this legislative session. If either branch does not pass the Bill by July 31, 2016, then the Bill “dies” and the entire process would start again, if at all.
After posting the initial blog, Debra Schwartz contacted us. She is an alimony recipient who opposes this attempt to make the cohabitation and retirement provisions of the Alimony Reform Act apply retroactively. With her permission, we are sharing some of her thoughts, including her illustration about the effect that the passage of H4110 would have on older women in Massachusetts:
If H4110 passes, older women in Massachusetts will be affected for the next 25-35 years until the generation dies off. The following scenario will happen repeatedly:
Two people married in their 20’s, are approximately the same age, married for 20 plus years then divorced, wife never worked during long traditional marriage; stayed home with the kids, both parties are now age 60 or older.
Parties divorced at some point in the last 10-20 years, before the Alimony Reform Act went into effect. Assets were split. Wife receives some alimony; too late to return to any meaningful career because she stopped working in her 20’s when kids were born. Parties didn’t have a lot of money, paid high legal fees for contested divorce, sent kids to college. Wife barely gets by on alimony. Husband has continued to work, increasing his salary and bonus throughout the years, contributions to company 401(k), stock options, etc. Wife doesn’t benefit from any post-divorce increases in income, retirement plan, stock, etc.
Bill H4110 is passed by the legislature and signed into law. Husband reaches age 66. Wife is approximately the same age. Her alimony is immediately terminated. Husband will not actually retire at age 66–he may well work for another 10 years continuing to pad his retirement funds without having to pay any alimony. Wife is left with no alimony income.
Separation Agreement signed in good faith by both parties is now null and void due to the retroactive nature of the new law. If Wife does not remarry or cohabit with someone with whom she can share expenses, she will spend the last third of her life with virtually no income and become a burden to the State. Wife will have no means to pay legal fees to return to Court. It is unlikely that she could represent herself pro se because she is no longer young and possibly not in good health. Wife also understands that due to the finality of the new law, she won’t get anywhere with her probate judge even if she went pro se.
Pretty bleak, isn’t it?
Debra strongly urges people, particularly women, to immediately contact their respective members of the House and Senate. Email is the easiest and most efficient way to reach them. Here are two links to the list of Senators and Representatives in the Legislature:
Along with contacting one’s own State Representative and State Senator, it is crucial right now to also immediately email Representative Theodore Speliotis, Chairman of House Committee on Bills in the Third Reading. You can contact Rep. Speliotis at Theodore.Speliotis@mahouse.gov. His office phone number is 617-722-2410. Legislators’ staffs are interested in hearing personal stories so that they may directly relay the information to the State Representative or Senator.
From speaking with several Legislators and their staff, Debra also found that it was important to explain the full impact of H4110 so that Legislators understand why passing the Bill would be a disaster for so many older women. Legislators are interested but they need to hear the voices of older women who cannot go back in time from 2016 to the 1970’s and 1980’s and make different choices.
It is not too late to act!