Generally speaking, very few spouses receive an award of permanent alimony following divorce. Alimony is based upon the need of one spouse to maintain the standard of living he or she had before the divorce and the ability of the other spouse to pay support to meet that need. In determining if one spouse will receive alimony, the court must look at all sixteen factors outlined in G.L. c. 208, § 34. No one factor alone determines if alimony will be ordered.
Instead, you should outline your case based on each and every factor. The following is a list of the statutory factors:
1. Length of the marriage
Generally, the parties need to have been married for a long time for the court to enter an order to pay alimony. For marriages of less than seven years, the likelihood of an order to pay alimony is very slim. For marriages of seven to twelve years, there might be alimony depending on how the other factors come into play. Drapek v. Drapek, 399 Mass. 240 (1987). For marriages exceeding twelve years particularly if one party has limited ability to earn income in the future and the other party is able to pay alimony, the court will likely enter an order.
2.Conduct of parties during the marriage
Not all conduct impacts alimony, but only that conduct that has economic consequences on the family. For example, if one spouse used marital assets to support a person with whom they had an affair, or gambled large sums of money, that might affect an award of alimony or property division. Kittredge v. Kittredge, 441 Mass. 28 (2004).
3.Age of the parties
The older the parties, the more likely the court will award alimony, especially if one spouse was the primary caretaker of the children and home, thereby limiting that person’s career or work experience.
4.Health of the parties
Ill health may affect a person’s ability to earn money and support himself or herself. In such cases, the court might award alimony to the ill spouse. Similarly, the court is unlikely to order someone with declining health to pay alimony to their spouse.
5.Station of the parties
This refers to the financial condition of the parties during the time of the marriage. Did they have a low income, middle income, or upper income lifestyle? If the economic status of the parties was poor, alimony may not be awarded at all.
6.Occupation of the parties
This is an especially important factor if one party has a career while the other spouse served as a homemaker and primary-care parent. If, on the other hand, both parties have careers and are able to support themselves, alimony is unlikely. Sometimes a court will order alimony to be paid for a set period of time to allow a party to obtain education or training for a career, although this is not favored in Massachusetts. Gordon v. Gordon, 26 Mass. App. Ct. 973 (1988).
7.Amount and sources of income
All income from any source may be considered by the court. This includes inheritances, investment income, trust income, or any other regular source of income. It is important to find out what income the other party receives on a regular basis.
8. Vocational skills -
This refers to any job skills a person has and includes technical skills, education, and job experience. A party with no skills is more likely to have alimony awarded than a party who has developed job skills.
This is related to vocational skills. What skills does a person have, and how likely are they to find work in that field? Do they have job skills in an industry that is no longer readily available; have they kept up their skills even if they were out of the job market for a period of time; or have they been injured in some way so that even with those skills they cannot work in that type of job?
10.Estate of the parties
A person’s estate means any property that he or she holds title to, regardless of how it was acquired. The estate includes inheritances, gifts, lottery winnings, and items bought for himself or herself.
11.Liabilities of the parties
The court can consider joint and individual debts in determining how much alimony to award. If the parties have significant debts, alimony is less likely to be awarded. In a case where there are a lot of debts and very little property, the court might be dividing up who pays what debts instead of who gets what property.
12.Needs of the parties
The court attempts to determine whether or not each party can maintain their current standard of living without alimony. The court then tries to adjust the rights of both parties in order to fashion an order that allows both to live in their current standard of living. Remember that the court cannot solve your money problems. They can only work with the incomes and assets that you and your spouse already have.
13. Opportunity of each of the parties for future acquisition of capital assets and income
The court will consider if one person is likely to have more ability to own future assets and earn more income. For example, a person whose income from their work includes potential stock options is likely to have future assets. On the other hand, a person who has full custody of young children is limited in their ability to work more hours and increase their income. If one spouse comes from a very wealthy family, there is a good chance he or she will receive a large inheritance when the parents die. The potential inheritance of a party may be considered in determining alimony, but it cannot be divided as property. Davidson v. Davidson, 19 Mass. App. Ct. 364 (1985).
14.Contribution of each of the parties in the acquisition, preservation, or appreciation in value of their respective estates
This relates more to the division of property than alimony, but may still be considered in determining an alimony order. The court looks to see who was the driving force behind the acquisition of assets during the marriage.
15.Contribution of husband or wife or both as homemaker
This is particularly important where one spouse has limited his or her career opportunities in order to render services as a homemaker. Often the court will award the homemaker alimony to compensate for the sacrifice he or she made by staying home so that the other spouse could pursue a career, particularly if it has an economic impact on that person.
16.Present and future needs of dependent children of the marriage
This factor applies mainly to property division, but may affect an order of alimony. If a child is likely to have special needs that have financial implications, this information should be brought to the court’s attention. G.L. c. 208, § 34. Each of these factors is considered and the overall impact determines whether one party must pay alimony to the other. No single factor can determine an order of alimony. However, the overriding consideration in establishing alimony will be the needs of one party and the ability of the other party to pay. Generally you receive alimony payments on a regular schedule, such as weekly or monthly. Alternatively, the court can order a lump sum of alimony, which means you would receive one large alimony payment at the end of the divorce, although this is not very common. You could then do what you wanted with that money. There is also rehabilitative alimony. Rehabilitative alimony is paid on a regular schedule for a set period of time to allow thespouse receiving alimony to obtain job skills and eventually become self-supporting. Massachusetts does not like rehabilitative alimony because it is so difficult to guess at what the future holds for each person. If a spouse receives alimony and later is able to find a decent paying job, the other person can bring a complaint for modification to reduce or end alimony.
How Long Will Alimony Be Paid?
If the parties have an agreement, the agreement will state when alimony will end. Usually alimony ends when the person receiving it remarries or the person paying it dies. It can also end upon retirement or other predictable events. Cohan v. Feuer, 442 Mass. 151, 158 (2004). Where the future finances of the parties is uncertain, the court cannot limit alimony to a set number of years. D.L. v. G.L , 61 Mass. App. Ct. 488 (2004). If either person’s financial situation changes, they can bring a complaint for modification asking that alimony be increased, decreased, or stopped altogether.
If you receive alimony, it will probably stop if you remarry and may even stop if you live with someone but decide not to marry if you and the person you live with are sharing income and expenses. If you have a separation agreement, you can state clearly what will happen if you marry or live with someone. In some cases, the court has ordered alimony to continue even after remarriage. This is generally just enough money so that the person will not be dependent on government programs such as welfare. O’Brien v.O’Brien, 417 Mass. 477 (1993). Alimony always ends when the party ordered to pay it dies, unless the court order clearly says otherwise.
Contact an expert divorce attorney
At the Law Offices of Michael R. St. Louis, we are fully prepared to handle your divorce case. As a leading Boston divorce law firm, we can provide you with the direction and legal counsel you need in your divorce. Call our Law Offices today for your free consultation at 781-816-3950 or contact us online.
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