Boston Magazine has a great article about alimony in Massachusetts. By the time you’re done reading it, you’ll be willing to stay in a dead-end marriage rather than getting divorced in Massachusetts:
When an alimony case comes up before a judge, the focus is almost exclusively on the wealthier ex-spouse’s ability to shell out, and hardly ever on the recipient’s ability to fund his or her own needs. … But unlike in most states–and every other state in New England–here judges historically do not assume any income for the recipient, even if he or she is able to work but chooses not to. (In fact, Massachusetts’ alimony system doesn’t even conform with state rules for other areas of family law. In child support cases, recent reforms explicitly encourage the judge to impute potential income to a recipient if the judge believes the recipient is shirking higher-paying work.)
For all this, what really sticks in the craw of would-be reformers is that alimony in Massachusetts is so often a burden without end…. [I]n Massachusetts: The only way judges here will set a cutoff for alimony is if it is tied to a specific event, like the recipient’s remarriage, death, or new inheritance. And since judges cannot predict what a recipient’s financial circumstances will be at a point in the future, most simply award indefinite alimony and leave it to the payor to seek modification. The vast majority of judges who do want to set a duration get overturned on appeal, so few ever try.
Ouch. Do gays and lesbians in Massachusetts really want to sign up for this? On its face, this alimony scheme seems to make divorce a one way ticket to financial ruin for the spouse with higher earnings. What God has joined together let no man put asunder — unless that man is willing to pay through the nose for the rest of his natural life.
After the jump, why hasn’t this medieval law been changed already?
According to the Boston Magazine piece, the law is “murky” regarding alimony in MA:
[A]limony is intended to provide for the financial needs of the lesser-earning, or “dependent,” spouse after a divorce. “Need,” according to Massachusetts case law, is whatever is required to keep up, to the extent possible, the standard of living the parties enjoyed before divorce. (Although it’s a gender-neutral law, most alimony recipients in Massachusetts are female.) …
In Massachusetts … the statute mandates that alimony exist, but neither the courts nor the legislature has formally explained why. As such, the rules on who gets alimony, how much, and for how long are murky at best.
Because the statute is so vaguely worded, award decisions are habitually based on case law, the growing mountain of which is a hydra of rulings that point in so many directions that almost any decision can be defended or overturned on appeal, depending on how smart your lawyer is and which precedent he selects to argue your case.
Great. Divorce proceedings are normally so simple and uncontentious, it’s a great idea by the Masshole legislature to add massive statutory uncertainty.
Speaking of the legislature, the current alimony regime has its defenders:
Preserving [the option to factor the spouse's earning potential] is crucial to state Senator Cynthia Stone Creem, cochair of the judiciary committee–and, as such, the person in position to stop Massachusetts Alimony Reform’s efforts in their tracks. Her view is that any changes to the current statute should be limited to allowing for finite alimony, and nothing more. Off the Hill, Creem is a family lawyer who argues alimony cases, and she sees marriages as partnerships, ones that ought to compensate dependent spouses for making their exes the successes they are. “But for their spouses, they wouldn’t be where they are today,” she says. “They brought up their children or helped with their businesses or entertained their associates.”
Cynthia Stone Creem, to quote Eric Cartman: “Stop busting my balls.” Can’t dependent spouses that are responsible for the success of their partners also be responsible for the success of themselves?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of alimony. I’m a “dependent spouse” myself. But getting divorced wouldn’t automatically make me a financial charity case.
In any event, don’t get divorced in Massachusetts. It’s going to end badly.
Till Death Do Us Pay [Boston Magazine]