Massachusetts Finally Gives Marriage a Break

September 26, 2011

I live in the state that’s long been considered the worst in the country for divorced men. Not only have we had a long history of lifetime alimony, but the law was written in such a way that when a man or woman remarried, their available income was revised to include the new spouse’s earnings. Using this new higher total, alimony payments to the first spouse would be increased. The law proved harshest to men, who comprise most of the victims of this draconian law, but was outrageously unfair to all.

Today the governor will sign a new bill into law, one that appears to meet a standard of fairness for all parties. From the Boston Globe:

The measure adds some consistency to alimony judgments by curbing lifetime alimony payments and providing caps on the number of years a spouse can receive alimony. The legislation also allows judges more flexibility to make determinations based on a family’s specific circumstances.

…The new legislation makes fundamental changes to existing alimony law.

In most cases, it will put an end to lifetime alimony payments, instead capping the number of years of payment according to the length of marriage.

But family law attorneys are also hoping that the law will allow people divorcing from shorter marriages – people who previously would have received no alimony – to receive a brief period of payments, just enough to get them through the transition period after the divorce.

Under the new law, a judge can rule to end alimony payments if the recipient is living with a new partner in a marriage-like situation.

Rachel Biscardi, who represented the Women’s Bar Association on the task force, says she expects the new law will support marriage and encourage people to make their partnerships official.

“We wanted to make sure that people are not just trying to cohabitate just to avoid alimony,’’ Biscardi said. “We hope that this will make it so that people will get married if they wish to.’’

Emmanuel Dockter, a Boston-based divorce lawyer, said he expects the law will be a good thing for families because it will encourage spouses to reach a settlement rather than take their case to court.

“In the past, it’s been more logical that you take your case as far as you can, because there’s a huge chance that you can get what you want,’’ Dockter said.

Now all we need is for Massachusetts judges to behave rationally and fairly, which may be asking too much. Still, it’s a huge step forward and I welcome it.

Two other articles I liked last week about marriage:

Badger’s Spinster Math (scary)’s 5 Ways You Know It’s Time to Get Married (funny and insightful, with an “awwww” moment)