Modification And Termination Of Alimony Under The Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act

Whether an existing order of alimony, also known as "spousal support" or "maintenance," can be modified or terminated depends on a number of factors including: whether the order was entered after a trial or by an agreement of the parties; the duration of the original alimony order; whether there has been a material change in the circumstances of the parties; the remarriage or cohabitation of the recipient spouse; or the retirement of the payor spouse. Modification may be available in Massachusetts even if the original order is from another state but at least one of the parties now lives in Massachusetts.

Modification: Alimony Ordered Pursuant To A Separation Agreement

If an alimony order was pursuant to a separation agreement between the parties, the availability of modification will depend upon the language contained in the agreement and in the judgment of divorce and may not be available.

Modification: Material Change In Circumstances; Remarriage Or Cohabitation

If an existing alimony order was entered after a trial, modification of the award is available when there has been a "material change" in the circumstances of the parties. A material change in circumstances requires that the parties be in very different positions than at the time the order was entered. A material change in circumstances can exist where there is a change in the income, employment or employability of either spouse — for example, if either party has a significant increase or decrease in their income or needs due to illness or disability. Modification of an alimony award is broad and can include instances of parties seeking an increase, reduction, suspension or termination of an existing order.

Other material changes can include the remarriage of the recipient spouse or the cohabitation of the recipient spouse with another. Unless specifically agreed by the parties, alimony ends upon the remarriage of the recipient spouse. Where a recipient spouse is cohabitating with another in a common household for a continuous period of three months or more, alimony "shall" be suspended, reduced or terminated under the Act. "Common household" means the sharing of a primary residence or other factors that demonstrate cohabitation such as: oral or written statements made to others about the relationship; the economic interdependence of the couple or the economic dependence of one person on the other; their conduct and engagement in collaborative roles in furtherance of their life together; the benefit to either or both from the relationship; the community reputation of them as a couple and "other relevant and material factors." Alimony that is reduced or suspended can be reinstated if and when the common household relationship ends but, in no event cannot extend beyond the termination date of the original order.

Modification: Orders Entered Prior To March 1, 2012

No material change in circumstances is necessary to modify an alimony order entered following a trial prior to March 1, 2012. The Act provides for durational limits on alimony awards [include link to other alimony page] and individuals subject to an alimony award that exceeds those limits may file for a modification, subject to certain time limitations based upon the length of their marriage or eligibility for full retirement benefits under Social Security.

Length of MarriageDate Eligible to File for Modification
Less than five yearsMarch 1, 2013
Less than 10 yearsMarch 1, 2014
Less than 15 yearsMarch 1, 2015
Less than 20 yearsSeptember 1, 2015

In addition, alimony terminates when the payor reaches full retirement age for Social Security, although a court can deviate from the termination rule in particular cases. Payor spouses eligible for full retirement benefits under Social Security on or before March 1, 2015, are already eligible to file a complaint for modification, no matter the length of the marriage.

Having an experienced Massachusetts family law attorney on your side can make a difference in both the amount and duration of any alimony award in your case.

Contact Our Massachusetts Family Law Attorneys

For consultation with a lawyer about a family law matter, including modification or termination of an existing alimony order, contact Donovan O'Connor & Dodig, LLP. We have offices in North Adams, Springfield and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and Bennington, Vermont, to serve you. You can reach us in Massachusetts at 413-358-4652, and in Vermont at 802-681-4792 or via email.