Alimony duration

Posted on June 19, 2009 by Gail Otis

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has heard arguments in a case and will decide an issue which may result in changes to future decisions regarding alimony. As written, the alimony statute does not require a termination date of payments to a former spouse unless expressly stated in the divorce agreement. Alimony orders issued by the Court are essentially in effect until a spouse's death or until the party receiving alimony remarries.

Arguments in the case, Rudolph Pierce v. Carneice Pierce (SJC No. 10381) heard in May 2009, pivot on the question whether an ex-husband can seek termination of alimony payments to his ex-wife upon entrance into voluntary retirement. The Pierces married in 1967 and divorced in 1999. Their separation agreement required the husband, Rudolph, to pay $110,000 yearly to his ex-wife, Carneice. At the time of their divorce, Rudolph worked as a litigation attorney with an annual income of $452,515. Carneice at the time made $40,376 annually. At the Probate Court level, Judge Leilah Keamy reduced the amount the husband had to pay in alimony but did not eliminate it. The plaintiff's brief argues that as of his retirement in April 2008, he no longer receives an income whereas his ex-wife voluntarily quit a $95,000-a-year job despite the fact that her current expenses are roughly double those of her ex-husband, and 60% higher than they were at the time of the divorce.

The issue of post-retirement alimony has been a contested one amongst practitioners for years. A ruling in favor of the husband, some argue, would be a major public policy shift. A task force of the Massachusetts and Boston Bar Associations is finalizing recommendations on how to best ensure 'consistency and predictability' in alimony awards. The MBA in June endorsed the creation of a general presumption of alimony termination at retirement. The final decision, however, still remains in the hands of the court.

This post written by Vanessa St. Leger, NUSL 2010, who is currently enjoying a co-op in family law with Otis & Associates, P.C. Edited by Gail P. Otis, Esquire

Divorce Tags: alimony, Divorce, modification Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)

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2 comments:

-TIMOTHY HOLLAND says

Although the blog does not include some essential information in terms of whether the party seeking voluntary retirement has reached a reasonable retirement age or length of service, I support the efforts to establish a definitive end of alimony payments upon voluntary retirement. In addition, I strongly support the revision of Massachusetts alimony statues and court awards to provide temporary support to enable the spouse to recover from the divorce without becoming perpetually dependent on spousal support

August 13, 2009 at 8:07 am

Gail Otis says
At present, the Court cannot issue a termination date for alimony, which is the subject of the case pending before the SJC. Parties are, of course, free to agree upon a termination date, or terminating 'event,' in their agreements. If an obligor is seeking termination of his or her alimony obligation based upon their 'voluntary' retirement under the present law in Massachusetts, it is unlikely to be successful unless the age of the obligor is in the range of that generally considered to be retirement age ' such as 65. In other words, a request to terminate an alimony obligation where the obligor voluntarily retires at age 40 would be expected to be unsuccessful under current law. Alimony should not be relied upon by the obligee as a lifelong support payment which relieves the obligee from making any effort toward self-support. Where one spouse has either given up a career, or pursuit of an education or career, in order to rear a family and provide career support to the other spouse in a long term marriage, however, I believe that the dependent spouse should receive long-term alimony.

August 13, 2009 at 2:14 pm

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