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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Does the Staggered Duration Formula for Alimony Mean that Lawyers Will Encourage Potential Clients to File for Divorce?

Hopefully not! However, it does make anniversaries more important than they already are.

Under the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011, which becomes officially effective on March 1, 2012, general term alimony will now have a time limit, determined by the length of the marriage.



  • For marriages lasting 5 years or less, general term alimony will last no longer than one-half of the number of months of the marriage.
  • For marriages lasting more than 5 years but less than 10 years, general term alimony will last no longer than 60% of the number of months of the marriage.
  • For marriages lasting more than 10 years but less than 15 years, general term alimony will last no longer than 70% of the number of months of the marriage.
  • For marriages lasting more than 15 years but less than 20 years, general term alimony will last no longer than 80% of the number of months of the marriage.
  • For marriages lasting more than 20 years, the court may order that general term alimony will last indefinitely.


There are circumstances that would justify a deviation from this staggered scheme, such as the recipient spouse co-habitating with a significant other, and the death of either spouse, and I would encourage you to speak to an attorney if you have questions about the Alimony Reform Act of 2011.

The staggered scheme creates a jump in the duration of an alimony order for each five years of marriage. This creates a dilemma for individuals who are approaching a five, ten, fifteen, or twenty year anniversary and are struggling with whether to seek a divorce. Waiting until after one of these pivotal anniversaries, should their situation be one where alimony is later awarded, would result in paying alimony for a longer period of time.

This puts attorneys in an uncomfortable position. Any respectable family law attorney would never advise or encourage an individual that is struggling with the decision of whether to remain in a marriage and commit to repairing any existing damage to get a divorce. For individuals that come into our conference room for an initial consultation, walking through our door is often one of the most difficult decisions that they have made. It is not the attorney's job to make that decision any more difficult.

The dilemma lies with individuals who are seeking legal advice but have not yet made a final decision as to whether they will file for divorce. Part of our job as attorneys is to inform our clients, and potential clients, what the law is. With the staggered scheme for calculating the duration of alimony, this means that remaining married past a five, ten, fifteen, or twenty year anniversary could result in a longer alimony order.  It is up to the individual whether this is a tipping point for filing, or just a consequence of not yet being sure whether their marriage is over.

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