1. Summary
  2. Who can File
  3. Forms to File
  4. Where to File
  5. Filing Fees
  6. What happens next?
  7. How Does the Court Decide?
  8. More Information on Changing Alimony

Summary

After a divorce, you may ask for a change in the amount of alimony you are paying or receiving, or in the length of time that alimony is paid. There are two main reasons you may ask for a change:

  1. Something has changed. There has been a “material change” in the financial circumstances of you or your ex-spouse, the person receiving alimony has died, or the person receiving the alimony has remarried or is living with a partner.
  2. Your alimony was awarded before the law changed in 2012 and it requires you to pay alimony for a longer period of time than you would under the new law.   Alimony laws were significantly changed in 2012.  The new law, St. 2011, Ch. 124 created four different types of alimony, as well as adding the length (duration) of marriage as a factor in how long alimony must be paid.  The law anticipated many people seeking changes (modifications) of alimony due to a difference between how long they should be paying alimony under the new law and how long they were required to pay alimony before the new law was passed.  As a result, a time frame is included outlining when alimony payers may file for modification depending on how long they were married.

If you are asking for a change only because your current alimony judgment requires you to pay alimony for a longer period of time than the new law would, you must follow the following time limits:

  1. If you were married to the person to whom you are paying alimony for 5 years or less, you may file a modification action on or after March 1, 2013.
  2. If you were married to the person to whom you are paying alimony for 5-10 years, you may file a modification action on or after March 1, 2014.
  3. If you were married to the person to whom you are paying alimony for 10-15 years, you may file a modification action on or after March 1, 2015.
  4. If you were married to the person to whom you are paying alimony for 15-20 years, you may file a modification action on or after September 1, 2015.
  5. Or: If you will reach full retirement age on or before March 1, 2015, you may file a complaint for modification on or after March 1, 2013.

Who can File

Either the person paying or the person receiving alimony, or both together can ask for a change. The person asking for the change is called the plaintiff. The other person is called the defendant.

Forms to File

If you and your spouse both agree that you would like to change your alimony, you should file a Joint Petition. See:

If you can’t agree on the changes, you should file:

Where to File

You must file in the county where the alimony was originally granted, usually where you were divorced.  For example, if you lived in Norfolk County when alimony was first ordered, but you now live in Suffolk and the defendant now lives in Plymouth County, you must file in Norfolk Probate and Family Court.

Filing Fees

$115 Filing fee for a Complaint for Modification of  Alimony
$5 Summons
Plus fees to the sheriff or constable for service

Or:
$150 for a Joint Petition to Change a Judgment

For more information about fees, or what to do if you cannot afford them, see Paying Your Fees

What happens next?

If you are the one who filed:

When you file the complaint, the court staff will give you a completed summons form.  You must make sure that this form is served on (delivered to) the other person.  If you feel that the other person will not object to the modification, you can have him/her sign the summons in the presence of a notary public and then return it to the court.

If you know that the other party will object to the change, you should have a constable or sheriff in that county serve the summons.  See Service of Process for directions on how to do this.

Once the constable or sheriff has completed service to the other party, he will either send the summons completed on the back with the date of service directly back to the court or to you.  If he sends it to you, make sure that you file the completed summons with the court as soon as possible.

The other person, called the defendant, has 20 days to file an answer to the Complaint for Modification of Alimony.  After that time, you should file a request for assignment of a court date if the staff has not already assigned one.  If the defendant does not file an answer, then you should ask for an uncontested trial.  If he/she does, then ask the court staff to schedule a pre-trial conference and explain the issues involved in the modification.

If you are not the one who filed:

If you are not the one who is asking for the change to alimony, the first time you hear about the court action might be when you get served with papers by a sheriff or constable. Read through the papers you receive carefully. You are the defendant in this case. You have 20 days to file an “Answer” with the court. The Answer is a document that you write yourself, it isn’t a court form that you fill out. See Answers in Probate and Family Court for information on how to write your answer and how to send it to the plaintiff (the person asking for the change) and the court.

How Does the Court Decide?

If you have asked for a change in alimony based on a change in circumstances, the court will look at whether there has been a “material” change in the ability of the person paying to pay the alimony, or a material change in the need for the alimony of the person receiving it, or both. This might include such things as making more or less money at work, severe illness affecting the ability to earn money or other changes that are important enough that alimony should be changed.

If you are paying alimony, and hoping to pay less in the future, you will still owe the full amount of alimony in your current court order until the order is changed by the court — even if your situation has changed. So, for example, if you lose your job today but your alimony order doesn’t get changed until 3 months from now, you will still owe your alimony from today until 3 months from now, even though you were not working.

The law also lists changes that might end alimony:

  1. If the person receiving the alimony remarries or lives with someone as a couple for at least three months.
  2. If either person dies.
  3. If the length of time of the alimony is longer than the new law requires. See Alimony for more information on time limits.
  4. If the person paying the alimony reaches full retirement age.

More Information on Changing Alimony

Governing Laws: G. L. c. 208, §§ 48-55