Massachusetts law about alimony

A compilation of laws, cases and web sources on alimony law by the Trial Court Law Libraries.

Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

MGL c.208, §§ 48-55 Alimony reform laws

MGL c.208, § 49(b) Length of general term alimony

Length of marriage Length of general term alimony
up to 5 years No more than 1/2 the number of months of the marriage 
5 up to 10 years No more than 60% of the number of months of the marriage
10 up to 15 years No more than 70% of the number of months of the marriage
15 up to 20 years No more than 80% of the number of months of the marriage
20 or more years Indefinite

MGL c.208, § 49(d) Cohabitation and alimony

General term alimony shall be suspended, reduced or terminated upon the cohabitation of the recipient spouse ... for a continuous period of at least 3 months.

MGL c.208 § 53(b) Amount of alimony

...the amount of alimony should generally not exceed the recipient's need or 30 to 35% of the difference between the parties' gross incomes established at the time of the order being issued.

St.2011, c.124  Alimony Reform. The sections below are not included in c.208:

  • Section 4:  Prospective application of law; material change of circumstance; existing alimony judgments
  • Section 5: Time limits for filing complaint for modification
  • Section 6: Retirement age and time limits for filing complaint for modification

MGL c. 208 includes other sections which deal with such things as modification, enforcement, assignments in lieu of alimony

Federal laws

P.L.115-97, § 11051, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 Repeal of deduction for alimony payments.
For a divorce or separation agreement executed after December 31, 2018, or executed before that date but modified after, alimony is no longer deductible by the paying spouse or counted as income for the receiving spouse.

10 USC § 1408 Payment of retired or retainer pay (military) in compliance with court orders

26 USC § 71 Alimony and separate maintenance payments (tax code)

26 USC §215 Alimony, etc. payments (tax code)

Selected cases

Balistreri v. Balistreri, 93 Mass. App. Ct. 515 (2018)
"Where there are one or more predivorce-judgment complaints (whether for support, modification, or divorce) that result in a judgment of spousal support, it lies within the judge's discretion -- taking into account the totality of the circumstances -- to determine which of these pleadings is to be used to calculate the length of a marriage for purposes of the alimony reform act."

Chin v. Merriot , 470 Mass. 527 (2015), Rodman v. Rodman , 470 Mass. 539 (2015) and Doktor v. Doktor , 470 Mass. 547 (2015). 
The retirement provision of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 does not apply retroactively to alimony orders in divorce judgments that entered before March 1, 2012

Connor v. Benedict, 481 Mass. 567 (2019)
A former spouse's payment of alimony to the wife did not prevent the wife from forming an "economic marital partnership" with her husband in the years before their marriage.

Duff-Kareores v. Kareores , 474 Mass. 528 (2016)
In-depth discussion of "length of marriage" where a couple had married, divorced, remarried and were now divorcing again.

George v. George , 476 Mass. 65 (2016)
"Discussion of how a judge should apply the 'interests of justice' standard when determining whether to deviate from the presumptive termination dates for general term alimony obligations set forth in G. L. c. 208, § 49 (b)."

Green v. Green , 84 Mass. App. Ct. 1109 (2013)
Supports the proposition that alimony might continue beyond an obligor's retirement.

Holmes v. Holmes , 467 Mass. 653 (2014)
Generally, "the maximum presumptive duration of an award of general term alimony (based on the length of the marriage)" begins when the judgment of divorce is issued, and "does not include the time period during which temporary alimony was paid" while the divorce was pending.

L.J.S. v. J.E.S. , 464 Mass. 346 (2013)
"[I]f presented with evidence of potential tax consequences, a judge should consider those consequences when creating or modifying alimony provisions in a divorce instrument.."

Pierce v. Pierce , 455 Mass. 286 (2009)
Discusses the factors a judge must take into consideration in making an award of alimony or a modification of an award and the balance a judge must strive for when resources are inadequate to maintain the marital standard of living. The court found that the Probate judge "did not abuse her discretion in finding that a reduction in the amount of alimony, but not a termination of alimony, was warranted in view of the totality of the circumstances." Also provides a good review of the history of alimony in Mass.

Sbrogna v. Sbrogna, 92 Mass. App. Ct. 639 (2018)
In determining the length of the marriage for alimony, "the number of months from the date of legal marriage to the date of service of a complaint or petition for divorce or separate support," counts from the date of the marriage to the date of the pleading upon which the judgment of divorce is ultimately entered.

Van Arsdale v. Van Arsdale, 477 Mass. 218 (2017)
“We conclude that the application of the act’s durational limits to certain alimony agreements that predate the act is not unconstitutionally retroactive because the statute does not attach ‘new legal consequences to events completed before its enactment.'”

Young v. Young, 478 Mass. 1 (2017)
"[W]here the supporting spouse (here, the husband) has the ability to pay, the need for support of the recipient spouse (here, the wife) under general term alimony is the amount required to enable her to maintain the standard of living she had at the time of the separation leading to the divorce, not the amount required to enable her to maintain the standard of living she would have had in the future if the couple had not divorced."

Web sources

Alimony, Mass. Legal Help, June 2014.
In plain language, explains alimony law in Massachusetts, including an introduction to alimony, the four different types of alimony, and answers to common questions. Includes links to forms.

Alimony, Mass. Dept. of Revenue
A tax guide to alimony and Mass. income tax instructions for payor and payee.

FAQs about divorce, Alan Pransky.
This site includes everything you every wanted to know about divorce, alimony, child support and child custody, but were afraid to ask. It includes answers to questions like: Can I get alimony?; Can men receive alimony?; What is spousal support?; How will a court determine how much alimony to award to a party?; What is rehabilitative alimony?; What is reimbursement alimony?; What is transitional alimony? and much more.

How the court decides on alimony, Probate and Family Court
Learn about the criteria judges may use to decide whether and how much alimony to award.

Learn about the types of alimony, Probate and Family Court
There are 4 different types of alimony. Find out who can ask for alimony, what the different types of alimony are, and how long alimony lasts.

Pitfalls of the new Massachusetts alimony law - recomputation and alimony fixed as child support, David H. Lee
Explains in some detail (with drafting suggestions) "two provisions of the Code which can impact that assumed income tax treatment: Recomputation and Alimony Being Fixed as Child Support."

Request to change your alimony, Probate and Family Court
Find out how to request to change your alimony.

Print sources

Deeley, Megan. “Splitting the  difference:  the historical context and practical ramifications of the 2012 Massachusetts alimony reform." Massachusetts Family Law Journal vol. 30 Issue 2.  (April 2012, entire issue, 15 pages.)

Financial aspects of divorce in Massachusetts, MCLE, loose-leaf.
Includes chapters on alimony, sources of income, division of property and retirement assets among other relevant topics.

“Impact of cohabitation under Alimony Reform Act” by Maureen McBrien, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, April 30, 2012. (40 MLW 1500)
This article reviews the conditions under which alimony may be suspended, reduced or terminated.

Kindregan, Charles P., Jr. "Reforming alimony: Massachusetts reconsiders postdivorce spousal support," Suffolk University Law Review, vol. XLVI, no. 1, p. 13-43 (2013).

Massachusetts practice v.1-3 (Family law and practice)  4th ed., Thomson Reuters, 2013. Chapter 53: Alimony

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Last updated: October 15, 2019
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