One of my past clients once described spousal support (alimony) to me as “getting paid NOT to be married!” It was, by far, her favorite part of the divorce process. This blog will delve into the details of what alimony actually is in Massachusetts.
The technical definition for spousal support is court-ordered support an ex-spouse pays for a period after a divorce. The person receiving alimony is called the recipient spouse and the person paying alimony is called the payor spouse. Alimony is based on the need of the recipient spouse and the ability to pay the payor spouse. In general, the amount of the alimony payment should not exceed 30%-35% of the difference between both parties’ gross incomes (although the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act of 2018 has impacted that calculation, explained more below).
In 2011, Massachusetts revamped its alimony laws to provide clarity to alimony calculations (called the Massachusetts Alimony Reform of 2011). There now 4 main types of alimony:
- Transitional Alimony-this is support paid to help the recipient spouse settle or transition after the divorce.
- Reimbursement Alimony- this is support paid to essentially reimburse the recipient spouse for financial contributions made to support the payor spouse during the marriage. An example of reimbursement alimony is the payment of costs towards the recipient spouse’s education or job training.
- Rehabilitative Alimony- this is support paid until the recipient spouse can support themselves financially. An example is support used to pay for education or job training to assist the recipient spouse to obtain skills or a degree in order to become financially independent.
- General Term Alimony- this is support paid for a recipient spouse who is financially dependent. This type of alimony is typically paid after long-term marriages end. General term alimony can end if the recipient spouse remarries, either spouse dies or the payor spouse reaches full retirement age as defined by Social Security. General term alimony can also be terminated, reduced or suspended if the payor spouse can show the recipient spouse has been cohabitating (living) with another individual for a period of 3 months or more.
How long will I receive alimony in Massachusetts?
The duration or length of time you may receive alimony depends on the length of the marriage. In general, the longer the marriage, the longer you may be eligible for alimony payments.
- For marriages less than 5 years, alimony will last no more than 50% of the length of the marriage. (Example: if you were married for a total of 60 months, the payor spouse will only be obligated to pay alimony for 30 months.)
- For marriages between 5 years and 10 years, alimony will last no more than 60% of the length of the marriage. (Example: if you were married for 60 months, the payor spouse will only be obligated to pay alimony for 36 months.)
- For marriages between 10 years and 15 years, alimony will last no more than 70% of the length of the marriage. (Example: if you were married for 60 months, the payor spouse will only be obligated to pay alimony for 42 months).
- For marriages between 15 years and 20 years, alimony will last no more than 80% of the length of the marriage. (Example: if you were married for 60 months, the payor spouse will only be obligated to pay alimony for 48 months).
- For marriages longer than 20 years, general term alimony can last indefinitely.
What about deviating factors?
The other component of alimony is called deviating factors. When calculating alimony, the court can look at other factors to deviate from the initial calculation. These factors can include health issues and medical costs, age, employment, and the lifestyle the parties led during the marriage. These factors are unique and case-specific and require detailed and thorough analysis by a competent Massachusetts divorce attorney.
What impact does the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act have on alimony?
We started this blog by mentioning the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act of 2018 (TCJA). It’s important to talk a little more about it because of its impact on the alimony calculations. Prior to the TCJA’s implementation, alimony was taxable income to the recipient spouse and non-taxable to the payor spouse. Then the government realized it could collect more taxes from the individuals paying alimony because they typically were higher wage earners and in higher tax brackets than the recipient spouses (that is why there was an alimony order in the first place). So the government implemented the TCJA which eliminated the tax deduction for payor spouses.
So how does this affect alimony payments now you may wonder. Well, since the payor spouse now has to pay full taxes on the alimony payments, it means there is technically less income to be split between the parties (because the government is taking more in taxes from the payor spouse). Massachusetts courts have handled this change in the tax code by reducing the maximum alimony support payment percentage from 30%-35% to 20%-25% difference between the parties’ gross incomes
If you are being asked to pay alimony or are looking for alimony, you should speak with a Massachusetts divorce attorney to analyze and evaluate your particular set of circumstances. Contact me to get started today.