Alimony Q&A

What is alimony?

The law defines “alimony” as “payment of support from a spouse, who has the ability to pay, to a spouse in need of support for a reasonable length of time, under a court order.”  Under the law (G.L. c. 208, §34), Judges are authorized to award alimony to one spouse or the other, depending upon need and ability to pay.

How is alimony different now from the way it was a few years ago?

In 2011, Massachusetts passed the Alimony Reform Act, which created a lot more certainty in the way alimony is calculated.   Judges are now required to work within a particular legal framework when fashioning alimony awards.  Although they must consider the facts and circumstances of each individual case, they have somewhat less discretion than they did prior to the passage of the Act.

Why was the alimony law changed?

The purpose of the change was to have more predictability and consistency in the way Judges determine the amount and duration of alimony in each case.  The greater predictability of outcomes encourages parties to settle based upon a realistic estimation of what the Judge would order after trial.

What changes should I be aware of and what do they mean for me?

  1. There are now four separate categories of alimony, each with durational limits, and each designed to serve a different purpose depending upon circumstances such as length of marriage, and extent of economic dependence or independence of a spouse, among others.
  2. The amount and maximum duration of each type of alimony are now determined with more certainty.  This may facilitate the settlement of your case, since the parties will have a better idea of what the Judge would order if the case went to trial.
  3. During any such time that the recipient spouse is cohabitating, alimony may be suspended, reduced or terminated.  There’s no requirement that the recipient spouse remarry in order for alimony to end.
  4. In most cases, alimony will end when the payor spouse attains full retirement age.  This provides more certainty, and promotes equity.
  5. The Judge is required to consider the amount and duration of alimony as a mandatory factor when deciding how to divide marital assets.  This requirement allows Judges to balance alimony and property division in order to fashion a fair and equitable judgment.

What are the 4 types of alimony under the current law?

General Term Alimony, the periodic payment of support to a recipient spouse who is economically dependent, which terminates upon remarriage of recipient spouse, the payor reaching full retirement age, or death of either spouse, and which may be terminated, suspended or reduced during cohabitation by the recipient spouse with another person.  Length of marriage affects the length of time alimony will be due.

Rehabilitative Alimony, the periodic payment of support to a recipient spouse who is expected to become economically self-sufficient by a certain time, such as upon reemployment .  In most cases, rehabilitative alimony is payable for a maximum of five years, and is intended to help the recipient spouse become economically independent.   Rehabilitative alimony terminates upon the remarriage of the recipient spouse, death of either spouse, or occurrence of a specific future event.

Reimbursement alimony, the periodic or one-time payment of support to a recipient spouse after a marriage of not more than 5 years to compensate the recipient spouse for economic or noneconomic contribution to the financial resources of the payor spouse, such as enabling the payor spouse to complete an education or job training.  Reimbursement alimony cannot be modified, and terminates upon the death of the recipient or on a certain date. It does not terminate upon the remarriage of the recipient spouse, does not terminate when the payor reaches full retirement age, and is not suspended, reduced or terminated upon cohabitation of the recipient spouse.

Transitional alimony, the periodic or one-time payment of support to a recipient spouse after a marriage of not more than 5 years to transition the recipient spouse to an adjusted lifestyle or location as a result of the divorce.  Transitional alimony cannot be modified or extended. The payments terminate on the death of the recipient spouse or on a specific date no more than three years after the date of divorce.

What factors will the Judge look at to determine alimony?

The law requires the Judge to consider the following factors: the length of the marriage; age of the parties; health of the parties; income, employment and employability of both parties, including employ-ability through reasonable diligence and additional training, if necessary; economic and non-economic contribution of both parties to the marriage; marital lifestyle; ability of each party to maintain the marital lifestyle; lost economic opportunity as a result of the marriage; and such other factors as the court considers relevant and material.

If the payor spouse works a second job or overtime beginning after the original alimony order, will this income be considered in an action to modify alimony?

Income from a second job or overtime that began after the order is not relevant in an action to modify alimony if a party works the equivalent of a full-time position.  If the party works part-time job, then any additional income from a second job or overtime would be considered up to the equivalent of a full-time job.

If I’m ordered to pay child support, can I also be ordered to pay alimony?

Yes, but in determining alimony, the Court may not consider the gross income already used to determine the child support obligation.   If the Court considered all annual income in determining the child support obligation, then in most cases there would be no alimony.

How much alimony will I have to pay?

The law provides that except in the case of reimbursement alimony, or circumstances warranting deviation for other forms of alimony, the amount of alimony should 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.


We handle many types of family law cases – a branch or specialty of law also referred to as “domestic relations” law, concerned with issues such as divorce, separation, paternity, custody, support, pre-nuptial agreements, and alimony.

If you need help in any area of family law, or would like to discuss your specific situation and options, including the changes to the Massachusetts Alimony law, call or send a message today to set up a free initial consultation.

Attorney Rhonda S. Boulé



Ferraro &  Boulé, Attorneys at Law: Experienced, Compassionate and Dedicated to Our Clients