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Massachusetts Alimony Reform Makes Waves

Massachusetts’ new alimony reform bill could be the model for future alimony laws in other states, and its provisions could be a welcome relief for ex-spouses burdened with alimony payments for years, says a divorce attorney in a recent Huffington Post article.

The bill, which survived the Massachusetts House of Representatives, could mean an end to lifetime spousal support after a divorce if it passes the Senate. This new post-divorce law could inspire other states to do the same.

“It is high time that the rest of the country took note,” the attorney wrote. “Why is it that one person is permitted to sit back and collect alimony long after the marriage, and often requiring the other spouse to continue working to support that individual?”

Massachusetts has long been on the cutting-edge of family law. The state passed a law allowing same-sex marriage in 2004, becoming the first U.S. state to do so. Since then, Iowa, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington D.C. and New York now allow it.

Regarding alimony law, the divorce lawyer hopes that a system will spread that limits the amount of time spousal support is expected, as this provision is designed to help the other spouses survive financially until they can support themselves.

House proposes amendment to Mass. alimony reform

Two Republican members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives plan to file an amendment to the state’s alimony reform bill that would allow judges to halt or reduce payments in cases already settled under current law, according to the State House News Service.

The legislation would only affect merged cases, which are alimony cases the court retains jurisdiction over indefinitely. In those cases, judges have the authority to revise alimony payments even years after a divorce is finalized. Parties can also opt for agreeing to the terms of their divorce as final, known as “survives with independent legal significance,” which prevents judges from modifying their decisions at a later date.

The amendment, set to be submitted by Representatives Sheila Harrington of Groton and Daniel Winslow of Norfolk, would allow state courts to adjust or stop payments in all alimony cases.

Known as the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011, the overall bill would alter how alimony payments are determined by Bay State authorities and place a cap on payments based on the duration of a marriage. The bill received initial approval from the House earlier this month.

The Boston Business Journal reports that if passed, the alimony reform bill would likely lower the cost of divorce proceedings and make it easier for divorce attorneys to advice their clients in those cases.

Mass. House to tackle alimony reform

The Massachusetts House of Representatives has given initial approval of legislation that would overhaul the state’s alimony system, according to the State House News Service.

Rep. Paul Donato, who presided over the House session in question, said the government body would likely hold a formal session next week to debate the proposed changes in the bill. Under the legislation, state law would lay out specific guidelines on the levels and duration of alimony payments to former spouses, the news service reports.

The bill, which currently has 133 co-sponsors from both parties, would establish a timeline for alimony payments, basing them on the duration of the marriage. For instance, in the case of a divorcing couple married for five years or less, the person receiving alimony would get payment for half the number of months of the union. For a 10- to 15-year marriage, the source reports judges would award payment for between 60 to 70 percent of the number of months a couple was married. It would be up to a judge’s discretion to determine how much alimony is due for a marriage surpassing 20 years.

There were 21,232 divorce filings in Massachusetts in 2009, according to Massachusetts Alimony Reform, resulting in 16,289 cases of alimony modification. The website stated that alimony modifications accounted for almost 30 percent of all Massachusetts Family and Probate Court cases in 2008.

Lower divorce rate in states with gay marriage

States that recognize same sex marriage tend to have lower divorce rates, according to an analysis of provisional government data.

Five out of the 10 states in the nation with the lowest divorce rates per thousand people are also among the nine states that perform and recognize gay marriages. According to U.S. News and World Report, although states that permit a wider variety of marriages would similarly have more divorce, provisional data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistics System found that the number of divorces in jurisdictions that recognize or perform same sex marriages is 41.2 percent of the number of marriages in 2009. In comparison, in other states that rate was 50.3 percent.

However, other data suggests that states with same sex marriages are just as likely to end in divorce as traditional unions. Gary Gates, a member of a sexual orientation law think tank and the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, told the news source that divorce rates in Massachusetts have not changed since same-sex marriage became legal in 2004.

In addition, some suggest that newlywed same sex couples are more likely to be older than opposite sex couples and often have higher levels of education, both factors that researchers believe lowers the risk for divorce.

Last month, New York became the newest – and largest – state to legalize gay marriage. Same sex marriages will officially become legal in the state on July 24.

Man erects billboard protesting alimony law

A Florida man has erected a billboard protesting the state’s permanent alimony requirements after he was ordered to pay his ex-wife nearly $1,000 per month for the foreseeable future, according to The Ledger.

Steve Hoye told the newspaper his former wife initiated a divorce that became final in 2007 and now must pay her $960 a month in alimony. Hoye said he has gone into debt as a result of the obligation and related court costs, inspiring him to construct a 4-foot-by-8-foot sign on his property reading “STOP PERMANENT ALIMONY”.

“The Florida court system has its hooks in me for the rest of my life, as long as my (ex-)wife is alive,” said Hoye, who is also the Polk County representative for Florida Alimony Reform.

The group claims that 8 percent of the nation’s alimony payers live in the Sunshine State. It advocates implementing a stricter set of guidelines regarding alimony awards, such as setting a maximum percentage of income that is paid and ending lifetime obligation, the newspaper reports.

Some states have taken steps to change what some consider to be outdated alimony laws. In Massachusetts, lawmakers recently proposed an alimony reform bill that would allow judges to base awards on financial need and would end required payments for long-term marriages at retirement age.