ALIMONY refers to payments made to a spouse for his or her support.
Starting March 1, 2012, there are new guidelines for alimony as a result of passage of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011. The Act makes sweeping changes to alimony awards in Massachusetts, among them the following:
a) There are maximum time limits for which alimony can be awarded. The longer the marriage, the longer the recipient can receive alimony, as measured by 5-year, 10-year, 15-year, and 20-year marriages. (50%, 60%, 70%, and 80% of the length of marriage, respectively. are the maximums).
Calculating the length of marriage has also been redefined;
b) If one pays child support, any amounts used to calculate the child support cannot also be used to calculate alimony; so that many payors whose incomes fall below $250,000 per year will pay no alimony; the Court, however, can now take into account the amount of alimony awarded in deciding what property to apportion to the parties;
c) Existing alimony awards can be suspended, reduced, or terminated where the recipient is cohabitating with another in a common household. (Proving this will complicate many cases.)
d) There are now different types of alimony available depending upon the circumstances of the parties: The Court can award "rehabilitative alimony" for up to five years to help a recipient become self-sufficient. A Court can award "transitional alimony" to help a party transition into a different lifestyle or location; and the Court can award "reimbursement alimony," if one party has contributed to the education or training of the other.
e) The amount of alimony will normally be limited to 30 to 35 per cent of the difference between the parties' gross incomes;
f) One reaching "full retirement age" as defined in the Social Security Act, will normally not be required to continue to pay alimony.
g) There are varying time limitations as to when one can return to Court seeking to change an existing alimony order, depending on length of the marriage.
In addition, there are now eleven factors set forth to determine the amount and form of alimony, and any other factors that may be relevant can be argued.
CHILD SUPPORT refers to amounts payable to parents for the support of children. Although there is a "formula" for child support based primarily upon the incomes of the parties, health insurance costs, and child-care costs, there are also subtle factors which frequently alter the standard child support formula. The Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines govern the amount to be paid. (Click here for the complete text of the Guidelines). A useful, but sometimes oversimplified application of the Guidelines is accomplished by filling in amounts for income, child care costs, and health insurance costs as set forth in the Child Support Guideline Worksheet issued by the Probate & Family Court.
Purchase / sale of home or condominium
Litigation of real estate dispute
Commercial lease disputes
Beware - Exceptions To The Rule
There are important reasons why one should not merely adopt the "plug in the numbers approach" to child support without consulting experienced counsel. If the combined incomes of the parties exceeds $250,000, for example, a decision must be made concerning what portion of the income of each party to include so that the total equals no more than $250,000, and there are differing theories on how to achieve this. The treatment of bonuses received is another thorny problem, as is the treatment of retained earnings in Subchapter S corporations, which flow down as "profits" to the corporate owner for taxation purposes, but which may not always constitute income for support purposes.
A careful reading of the Guidelines also reveals that adjustments in support are appropriate for a payer who is supporting a child from a prior relationship, for a payer with extraordinary travel-related expenses in order to see his/her child, and for a payer who has "joint physical custody," or who has custody of one of more children while his spouse also has custody of one or more children.
Care needs to be taken to explore the varying fact patterns of each party's situation in order to achieve an appropriate support order.