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Alimony reform bill goes forward

Would give judge more discretion

State House News Service / July 21, 2011

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Alimony reform in Massachusetts took a major step forward yesterday as the House unanimously approved a bill that would lay out for the first time in state law specific guidelines on the levels and duration of payments to former spouses.

Alimony reform bills have failed several times in the past. Representative Eugene O’Flaherty, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said alimony was a complex issue that is long overdue for reform.

A task force - made up of legislators, divorce lawyers, judges, and the state’s bar associations - tackled the issue for more than a year, gathering input from all sides, lawmakers said.

“The alimony reform act is a well-thought-out, well-balanced solution to the vexing problem of alimony,’’ O’Flaherty said.

Critics of current state alimony laws said they are arbitrary and inconsistent and leave many without redress if circumstances change. Advocates said the bill would give judges more discretion on when and how much alimony to award, as well as make it possible to stop payments when a former spouse is living with someone else in a marriage-type relationship.

During a hearing in May before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, dozens of people testified they were stuck paying alimony to former spouses despite the fact their former spouses were living with someone else, sometimes for years. The bill, which has 133 cosponsors from both parties, now heads to the Senate.