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Sunday, August 30, 2009

What is the Stevenson-Kelsey Spousal Support Calculator?

UPDATE: There is pending legislation for major changes to the alimony statute in Massachusetts. The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 was filed on January 18, 2011 and you can learn more about the Act at MassAlimonyFormula.com or in our recent blog post highlighting the differences between the bill and the current law.

Attorney Scott R. Stevenson of Hingham, Massachusetts and Attorney Justin L. Kelsey, Esq. (one of the authors of this blog) created the Stevenson-Kelsey Spousal Support Calculator as a tool to enable family law practitioners to better advise their clients regarding the settlement of divorce cases where a primary issue is the proposed alimony payment from one spouse to the other.

There is not currently any “formula” for the calculation of the spousal support obligation (also referred to as “alimony”) that is endorsed by either the Massachusetts Legislature, a consensus of Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Justices, or even a consensus of Massachusetts family law practitioners.

There are many groups who are seeking more definitive changes in the alimony laws in Massachusetts, including groups of lawyers and judges, such as the Joint Alimony Task Force of the MBA and BBA, and also groups of concerned citizens such as Massachusetts Alimony Reform.

Unfortunatley, there are seemingly as many different opinions in the family law field as there are ways to interpret the broad language of MGL, Chapter 208, § 34. Section 34 is the Massachusetts statute relating to the award of spousal support which provides that, in determining the amount of alimony, if any, to be awarded to any one spouse from the other spouse, the Court shall consider: the length of the marriage, the conduct of the parties during the marriage, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties, the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income, the nature and value of the property to be so assigned, the present and future needs of any dependent children of the marriage; and the Court may also consider: the contribution of each of the parties in the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates and the contribution of each of the parties as a homemaker to the family unit.

Not only are these factors numerous, they are in many ways subjective and the Judges are currently left with the difficult task of combining all of these factors to create an alimony order.

The purpose of the Stevenson-Kelsey Spousal Support Calculator is not to suggest that any one of the formulas presented herein is better than any other at approximating the required evaluation under current Mass. Gen. Laws. Ch. 208 § 34. However, the authors do believe that a more consistent approach to the calculation of the alimony obligation – based on quantifiable factors – can benefit the citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in coming to agreements more quickly and more fairly, thus ending the stresses and expense of divorce litigation sooner rather than later.

Therefore, while we do not endorse any of the specific alimony guideline formulas described herein, we do hope that reference to these formulas will assist family law practitioners in providing both their clients and the Court with increased guidance on appropriate sums for alimony or spousal support in Divorce Agreements.

Each of the formulas was developed by their respective authors after considered and learned debate, and at the very least, we believe that the family law bar and our clients can both learn from the result of that debate in other forums and apply what has been learned to the resolution of disputes in Massachusetts’ divorce litigation. It is in that spirit and with that purpose that we present the Stevenson-Kelsey Spousal Support Calculator.

NOTE:
To view and use the Stevenson-Kelsey Spousal Support Calculator please visit
www.kelseytrask.com/spousalsupport.htm, or you can obtain your own copy of the Stevenson-Kelsey Spousal Support Calculator for use on your own computer by submitting a request here.

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