MA House Advances Alimony Reform Bill

Good news on Massachusetts alimony reform–from the State House News Service’s new article “House Advances Bill Overhauling Alimony Laws” (7/7/11):

The House signaled Thursday that it appears ready to tackle an issue that policy makers have long eyed as in need of reform: the alimony system…the House gave initial approval to a sweeping reform bill and Rep. Paul Donato, (D-Medford), a member of Speaker Robert DeLeo”s leadership team who presided over Thursday”s session, said the House would likely hold a formal session next week to debate the changes.

Under the proposal, state law would lay out for the first time specific guidelines on the levels and duration of payments to former spouses.

Critics of the current system say it is inconsistent and arbitrary and leaves many without redress even if their financial situation deteriorates. The changes would also curb “lifetime’ alimony, something reform advocates say Massachusetts judges award too often.

The bill (S 665) has 133 co-sponsors from both parties and support from a large majority in each branch.

Alimony reforms have failed to pass in the past, but the recession has helped push the issue up on the Legislature”s priority list, lawmakers involved in drafting the bill said. The Joint Committee on the Judiciary heard testimony on the proposed changes in May.

Critics of the current system have argued some alimony payers found themselves out of work or their businesses failing when the economy took a tailspin, but judges were unable to revise alimony payments because the law did not make any allowances.

Sen. Gale Candaras (D-Wilbraham), who led the legislative task force charged with looking at the issue, has said the bill does not abolish alimony, like some people fear. “Nothing could be further from the truth,’ Candaras told the News Service during an interview in May.

Candaras said the task force worked with people on all sides of the issue to “make sure nothing they did would negatively impact” people affected by divorces…The bill would establish a timeline for payments, granting payments based on the years of marriage. If someone is married five years or less then the person receiving alimony would get payment for half of the number of months of the marriage. For a 10 to 15-year marriage, judges would award payment for between 60 to 70 percent the number of months the couple was married. The spouse of a 15-year marriage would be entitled to payments for 80 percent of the number of months. It would still be up to a judge’s discretion on how many months of payments to award for any marriage longer than 20 years.

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