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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

How Long is a Marriage? It Depends why you are asking!

The Massachusetts Appeals Court has decided another case interpreting  the Alimony Reform Act, that I will likely refer to as that "length of the marriage" case rather than trying to pronounce the actual name.  In Valaskatgis v. Valaskatgis, the Appeals Court was faced with the question of whether the Alimony Reform Act's definition for "length of the marriage" also applied to property division questions.

Question: Does Length of the Marriage (for Alimony)  =  
Length of the Marriage (for Property Division)?

Answer:  No.

Why does it matter?

The Alimony Reform Act defines length of the marriage as:
"the number of months from the date of legal marriage to the date of service of a complaint or petition for divorce or separate support duly filed in a court of the commonwealth or another court with jurisdiction to terminate the marriage; provided, however, that the court may increase the length of the marriage if there is evidence that the parties’ economic marital partnership began during their cohabitation period prior to the marriage." M.G.L. c. 208 § 48
The Property Division statute lists "length of the marriage" as one of the numerous factors that the court shall consider "in fixing the nature and value of the property, if any, to be so assigned" from one party to the other.  See M.G.L. c. 208 § 34 

If these are the same, then property acquired after the date of filing a divorce complaint would not be part of the property division discussion.  That was the argument the husband was making in Valaksagtis Valaskagis Vakaslagis Valaskatgis, because he received $96,000 in overtime income after the divorce filing but before the date of the divorce.

The Appeals Court disagreed and even though the name of the case is not simple, the court's theory is pretty straightforward:  "Nothing in the language of § 48 (or for that matter, in the language of the Alimony Reform Act more generally) indicates or suggests that its definitions are to be exported beyond §§ 49 through 55."  Which essentially means that longstanding case law regarding property acquired after the Complaint for Divorce filing still stands, and the Judge has discretion to divide that property in consideration of all the § 34 factors.



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