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New Massachusetts divorce laws may be confusing

In recent months, the media has been filled with stories demonstrating the need for family law reform, specifically dealing with alimony. Many states looking to reform current laws look at the changes that took place recently in Massachusetts. While some argue that the recent changes are improvements over the old policies regarding divorce, specifically alimony, there are still areas needing clarification.

The new law eliminates alimony for life, which some say encourages women to remain unemployed and unmarried. The law sets limits to how long alimony must be paid in marriages lasting under 20 years. Judges can still make determinations in longer marriages. While judges can decide to extend alimony payments past the age of retirement, they must support their ruling in writing. Additionally, alimony payments are supposed to be terminated once the recipient has lived with a new partner for three months.

Unfortunately, some claim the laws are being misinterpreted and misapplied. One man claims he had to move onto a Cherokee Indian Reservation as a result of his court-ordered alimony payments. The man, who is 67 and unemployed, is deeply in debt due to a failed business venture, but was ordered by a judge to get a job in order to pay his former spouse $4,000 a month. If the man leaves the reservation and is detained by authorities for any reason, he could be returned to Massachusetts and end up in jail.

Other judges, lawyers and alimony recipients and payees are having difficulty interpreting the part of the law ending payments after the recipient has lived with a new partner for three months. Some argue that the law only applies to partners who began living together after the new law went into effect and does not apply to those who were already cohabitating. One man claims that he is still making alimony payments to his ex-wife even though she has been living with her new partner for over eight years.

Those who worked on creating the changes to the law acknowledge that they expected there would be a need for a period of adjustment to work out the details. However, they claim that even with the problems, Massachusetts new divorce laws are a vast improvement. Some situations will have to be handled on a case-by-case basis until all aspects of fully understood.

Source: The Boston Globe, New state alimony law, once hailed as a model, is causing confusion and being misinterpreted or ignored by judges, Bella English, Oct. 20, 2013

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