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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Appeals Court confirms Survived Agreements are not Modifiable, even under the Alimony Reform Act: Lalchandani v. Roddy

This post written in collaboration with Jason V. Owens, Esq. of Stevenson & Lynch, P.C.

The Appeals Court recently decided another alimony modification case, Lalchandani v. Roddy (AC 13-P-1988), but don't get excited.  The case doesn't contain any revelations.  The issue presented in Lalchandani v. Roddy is whether a husband who has reached federal retirement age can seek to terminate his alimony obligation, despite a survival clause prohibiting modification in a divorce agreement, where the parties subsequently agreed to reduce the husband's alimony after the divorce.  In this case, the flaw in the husband’s argument was easy to spot: the modification agreement that the parties entered after the divorce also contained a survival clause that prohibited any further reduction in the alimony unless husband becomes “totally disabled such that he is completely prevented from working”.

Since, the Alimony Reform Act is quite clear that surviving alimony provisions cannot be modified under the Act, the only real issue in the case was whether the survival clause in the judgment was ambiguous.  Unsurprisingly, the Appeals Court found that the “total disability” clause in the modification agreement was clear and enforceable, and denied the husband’s request to terminate alimony on the sole basis of his age. (Husband did not allege that he was totally disabled.)

Frankly, it is somewhat surprising that the Appeals Court elected to publish this opinion, given the narrow scope of the decision.  Even more interesting, the Appeals Court flagged the bigger issue that the SJC is now working on: namely, whether the duration limits on alimony set forth in the 2011 alimony reform act apply to any alimony orders pre-dating the effective date of the act, March 1, 2012.  In Lalchandani v. Roddy, the Appeals Court flirts with deciding whether modification of alimony orders under the alimony act are strictly prospective, stating, “it is true, as the husband points out, that the act provides that general term alimony orders terminate upon a payor attaining full retirement age …” However, the Court pulls back at the last second in Footnote 9, explaining that the Court “need not” determine “whether the act is prospective only” as a general matter, since the Court was able to resolve the case on other grounds.

We'll have to continue waiting for a decision on the three outstanding SJC cases for guidance on whether the Act can modify alimony on pre-Act agreements and judgments.

Stay tuned!


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