Alimony or spousal support is a topic that often arises in divorce cases where one spouse may be financially disadvantaged in relation to the other. While many people perceive that alimony is only ordered after a marriage of long duration, you may be entitled to some form of alimony in marriages that only lasted a few years, depending on certain circumstances. How long the alimony lasts will depend on what type it is or how long the marriage lasted, as well as if the paying spouse has the financial ability to pay. 

Types of Alimony

There are 4 types of alimony in Massachusetts that can determine how much and for how long you may receive alimony:

  1. General Term Alimony—the recipient spouse must demonstrate a financial need. The duration for this type of alimony depends on how long the marriage lasted:
  • If less than 5-years, the alimony will last no longer than ½ the duration of the marriage.
  • If the marriage was at least 5-years in duration but no more than 10-years, the alimony may last no longer than 60% of the length of the marriage.
  • For marriages of more than 10-years but less than 15-years, the alimony is no more than 70% of the length of the marriage.
  • For marriages of more than 15-years but less than 20-years, the alimony may be no more than 80% of the length of the marriage.
  • For marriages of 20-years or more, the recipient spouse receives alimony until the payor attains full Social Security retirement age, which for most people is between 66 and 70-years of age. Under exceptional circumstances, the court may extend the payment period. 

General term alimony ends upon any of these occurrences:

  • Either spouse dies
  • The recipient spouse remarries
  • The recipient spouse cohabitates with someone who is not related for more than 3-months
  1. Rehabilitative Alimony—awarded where a recipient spouse needs re-training or additional education to become gainfully employed. The amount awarded may be only for the cost of the training or education, and for a period to allow the spouse a reasonable time to enter the labor market. Alimony is limited to 5-years duration unless the recipient spouse demonstrates a compelling need or circumstances to extend the time. It ends if either spouse dies. 
  1. Reimbursement Alimony—this applies in situations where a spouse has contributed funds for the other spouse’s education or re-training, and is entitled to be reimbursed. This type of alimony is only for marriages lasting less than 5-years.
  1. Transitional Alimony—this is a lump sum or installment type payment to the recipient spouse for a sufficient time so as to allow him/her to re-locate or to settle into a new lifestyle. This is another type of alimony reserved for marriages of less than 5-years. The alimony order cannot exceed 3-years from the date of divorce. 

How is the Length of a Marriage Determined?

The duration of a marriage is determined from the wedding date to when a divorce petition was served on the other party. Determining the date is instrumental since it can affect the type of alimony that may be awarded and how long the support obligation may last. 

However, there are cases where divorce petitions are dismissed or withdrawn, and then filed and served again, or where a Joint Petition was amended. Our courts have held that the date of the marriage’s termination may be where a Joint Petition for divorce was amended rather than when it was originally filed and served. In other cases where there are multiple pleadings and it may be difficult to ascertain exactly when the marriage terminated, the trial court is given discretion in ascertaining the date. In such cases, an appeals court will ordinarily not question or overrule a trial judge’s decision so long as the judge considered the totality of the circumstances and the sequence of the filings. 

Retain Divorce Lawyer Heather M. Ward

The question of alimony is an important topic in many divorces that only an experienced and knowledgeable divorce lawyer can explain to you. Whether you qualify for alimony, for how long, and in what amount are issues that divorce lawyer Heather M. Ward can discuss with you. Call her today at (617) 903-8955 for a consultation about your divorce case.