Need "is not based on the minimum life necessities of the spouse, but rather is measured by 'the amount necessary to support a spouse in a manner consistent with the marital life-style.'" Reed quoting Zaleski v. ZaleskiFor general term alimony, the most typically awarded type of alimony, the statute also limits the amount of alimony to "generally not exceed the recipient's need or 30 to 35 per cent of the difference between the parties' gross incomes established at the time of the order being issued."(emphasis added) In Reed, the Appeals Court points out the importance of that "or".
The trial Judge, in Reed, used the differential formula (though apparently did the math wrong), and the husband argued that the wife's "need" was actually lower. The Appeals Court did not agree, and also indicated that "the statute plainly allows a judge to base the alimony award on need OR the income differential formula." (four types of emphasis added)
In this graph that would mean the trial Judge has discretion to award anything in the purple area up through the dark blue line, so long as the payor has an ability to pay. But what if "need" exceeds the differential formula? Can the Judge award a figure in the blue section of the graph above? If "need" exceeds the differential formula is the cap higher?
According to the Appeals Court in Reed, and despite the fact that this answer was not necessary for the decision in this case, the Court answered YES: "A judge has discretion to exceed the thirty-five percent benchmark on the basis of the parties' marital spending patterns."
While Rule 1:28 decisions are not binding precedent, the Appeals Court has sent a clear message regarding their interpretation of the SJC's prior decisions on alimony. Alimony recipients might not get what they want, but they will likely get what they need.