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Understanding the Four Types of Alimony under Massachusetts Law

By DiBella Law Offices on November 18, 2015

One of the most contentious issues in a divorce is a determination of which of the spouses will have to pay alimony, how much the alimony will be and how long it will last. There are many factors to be considered including the relative earning power of the spouses, the length of the marriage, the circumstances of the divorce, and the contribution of each spouse to the family’s property and lifestyle.

Under Massachusetts law, there are four different kinds of alimony. What’s known as “general term alimony” is paid to the spouse who is financially dependent. Typically, a determination of the period of time during which this kind of alimony is to be paid depends on the length of the marriage. For example, where the couple has been married for less than five years, the paying spouse generally won’t be required to pay alimony for more than 50% of the number of months of the marriage. So if the couple was married for 36 months, the length of the alimony period cannot exceed 18 months. Conversely, however, where the marriage has lasted more than 20 years, the court has discretion to award alimony for whatever period of time seems to be fair.

The more specialized kinds of alimony are “rehabilitative alimony,” “reimbursement alimony” and “transitional alimony,” and each has its own role to play in the overall picture of a divorce. Where it is reasonable to believe that the dependent spouse will be able to support himself within a definite period of time (e.g., 18 months), the paying spouse can be required to pay “rehabilitative alimony” for the period during which the dependent spouse is getting ready to go back to work by, e.g., completing course work for a relevant degree, getting certified for an occupation, or transitioning from the role of a stay-at-home spouse to an independent wage earner.

Where, however, the marriage has lasted no more than five years and the now-dependent spouse supported the paying spouse while she advanced her career by finishing college or graduate school or entering a career as a doctor or a CPA, the now-dependent spouse may well be entitled to what Massachusetts law calls “reimbursement alimony” which reflects support he provided to the paying spouse during the marriage, even though it was relatively short in duration.

Finally, a dependent spouse may be entitled to “transitional alimony,” which is specifically intended to help a dependent spouse transition to a different lifestyle or relocate to a different place of residence.

The four classifications of alimony seem simple but the truth is that the dependent spouse’s claim to alimony always is complicated. The mere fact that Massachusetts law identifies four types of alimony does not eliminate the dependent spouse’s need for excellent legal advice from experienced divorce attorneys like the lawyers of DiBella Law Offices, P.C. This is particularly true because there are other factors besides alimony that must be considered in determining how best to separate the financial and social lives of a married couple, including the extent of marital property, the number of children in the household, and each spouse’s skills, abilities, age, health and economic prospects.

Anyone who believes that he or she will be the “dependent spouse” in a divorce in Massachusetts should definitely contact us to learn more about the four kinds of alimony and how the factors in determining an alimony award are likely to play out in a particular fact pattern.

Posted in: Divorce