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Massachusetts proposes changes to alimony laws

Posted by Jill Boynton  December 18, 2009 10:48 AM

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Legislation currently pending in Massachusetts would limit the time period for which a party is required to pay alimony to an ex-spouse, a change that some say is needed to update antiquated laws.

A bill before the state legislature would limit alimony payments in many divorces to "a reasonable period of time" which is defined as half the length of the marriage, but no longer than 12 years unless the supported spouse has minor children. The goal of the bill is that "any party needing alimony shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time." The bill would also require alimony payments to drop 10 percent annually after 5 years (unless the recipient is not able to support him/herself through employment or has custody of a child under 16 years old.)

Some say the current law, which can allow lifetime alimony, unfairly punishes high-earning spouses. The fact that the amount and term of alimony (while taking into account the length of marriage and earnings of both parties) are at the discretion of the court gives the judge too much flexibility. In addition, with the ability of women to work and earn their own living, rules that were created in a different era don't apply anymore. I once heard a mediator in a divorce case remind a spouse that "divorce is not a pension plan" and that she shouldn't expect to be taken care of for the rest of her life. I think that is a fair and equitable way to look at the situation. Of course there will always be situations when lifetime alimony may be necessary and the bill won't deny those parties their due. But remember that the purpose of alimony is to support the lesser-earning spouse while he or she does what is necessary to become self-sufficient.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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D. Abraham Ringer is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER practitioner and a Financial Adviser with Morgan Stanley Global Wealth Management in Boston. He is registered in MA, NH, NY and several other states to which his articles are directed. For more information please visit www.morganstanleyfa.com/ringer
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