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Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act Retirement Ruling

In 2011, the Massachusetts legislature passed the Alimony Reform Act (“Reform Act”) which went into effect on March 1, 2012. The Reform Act states that a person paying alimony, who reaches retirement age, can either reduce or terminate their alimony obligation. This is known as the retirement provision of the Reform Act. As a result, many people paying alimony, who have reached retirement age, have tried to reduce or terminate their alimony obligations by filing petitions in the Probate and Family Court. Recently, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled on the applicability of the retirement provision of the Reform Act in three separate opinions, Chin v. Merriot, SJC-11715 slip op. (January 30, 2015); Doktor v. Doktor, SJC – 11727 slip op. (January 30, 2015); Rodman v. Rodman, SJC-11726 slip op. (January 30, 2015). The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found that the retirement provision applies prospectively.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s finding that the retirement provision of the Reform Act applies prospectively means that individuals ordered by a Court, to pay alimony before March 1, 2012 cannot solely use the Reform Act’s retirement provision to reduce or terminate their alimony obligations. This prohibition applies regardless of whether a person’s obligation to pay alimony is survived or merged into the divorce judgment. There is still a way to modify the duration period of a Massachusetts alimony order.

Any person seeking a reduction or termination of a judgment before March 1, 2012 that orders alimony payments must show that has been a materially and substantial change in circumstances requiring a change in the duration of alimony. A material and substantial change in circumstances occurs when there is a change in circumstances that was not contemplated at the time the person was ordered to pay alimony and that person is unable to pay alimony at the same level.

In sum, the retirement provision of the Reform Act does not apply to alimony obligations agreed to or ordered by a Court before March 1, 2012. If you are person paying or receiving alimony and you feel that the amount of alimony needs to be altered, contact a divorce attorney to help guide you through this complex issue.