The Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act became effective March 1, 2012 and substantially changed the parameters upon which judges may issue alimony in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. By way of example, the statute provides that general term alimony orders shall terminate when the person ordered to pay alimony has attained full retirement age. Additionally, the statute also provides the general term alimony shall be suspended, reduced or terminated when the former spouse receiving alimony maintains a common household, as defined by the statute, with another person for a continuous period of at least three months. These provisions represent a significant variation from alimony decisions issued prior to the statute’s effective date.
In the case of Chin v. Merriot, the Supreme Judicial Court looked at whether the retirement and cohabitation provisions are to apply retroactively; that is whether it will apply to alimony orders issued prior to March 1, 2012. In the Chin case, the parties negotiated a separation agreement which provided that the husband shall pay the wife alimony and said obligation shall terminate upon the death of either party or the wife’s remarriage. The separation agreement was merged and incorporated into the divorce agreement which was issued on August 17, 2011, seven months prior to the effective date of the Alimony Reform Act.
In March 2013, the husband filed a motion to modify the alimony order, claiming that he had reached full retirement age and that his ex-wife had been cohabitating with another person for more than three months. The trial court denied the petition to modify, finding that the Alimony Reform Statute did not apply to alimony orders issued prior to the effective date of the statute.
On appeal, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the trial court’s decision, finding that the Alimony Reform Act does not apply retroactively. Relying on uncodified provisions of the Alimony Reform Act, the Supreme Judicial Court concluded that the legislature did not intend for the retirement and cohabitation provisions to apply to orders issued prior to March 1, 2012. The Supreme Judicial Court’s Decision in Chin stresses the importance for parties to review the entire statute, which includes the uncodified provisions which often illustrate the legislative intent in passing a law.
If you have any questions regarding alimony, in Massachusetts or New Hampshire, please do not hesitate to contact an attorney at Hamblett & Kerrigan to discuss. The attorneys at Hamblett & Kerrigan have experience in handling such situations. Let Hamblett & Kerrigan use their experience to your advantage.
Kevin P. Rauseo is a former director at Hamblett & Kerrigan P.A. and has since been appointed as a Justice for the New Hampshire Circuit Court. Please feel free to contact another attorney at Hamblett & Kerrigan to discuss your legal issues.