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How To Modify Or Terminate Alimony In Massachusetts

Whether an existing order of alimony, also known as spousal support or maintenance, can be modified or terminated depends on several 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
  • The retirement of the paying spouse

Modification of alimony may be available in Massachusetts even if the original order is from another state if at least one of the parties now lives in Massachusetts.

Modification: Alimony Ordered Pursuant To A Separation Agreement

If alimony was ordered pursuant to a separation agreement between the parties, the availability of modification depends upon the language contained in the agreement and in the judgment of divorce. It may not be available.

Modification: Material Change In Circumstances

If an existing alimony order was entered after a trial, it can later be modified 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 be a change in the income, employment or employability of either spouse — for example, if either party has a significant increase or decrease in 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.

Modification: Remarriage Or Cohabitation

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.

If a recipient spouse is living with another in a common household for a continuous period of three months or more, alimony will be suspended, reduced or terminated. “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
  • Economic interdependence of the couple or the economic dependence of one person on the other
  • Conduct and engagement in collaborative roles in furtherance of their life together
  • The benefit to either or both from the relationship
  • Community reputation of them as a couple and “other relevant and material factors”

Alimony that is reduced or suspended can be reinstated if the common household relationship ends, but in no event can it 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 seek modification of an alimony order entered following a trial prior to March 1, 2012. The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 provides for durational limits on alimony awards 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.

In addition, alimony now terminates when the payer reaches full retirement age for Social Security, although a court can deviate from the termination rule in particular cases. Payer spouses eligible for full retirement benefits under Social Security are eligible to file a complaint for modification.

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 and Pittsfield to serve you. You can reach us at 413-663-3200 or via email.

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