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How long does alimony last?

On Behalf of | Jan 11, 2022 | Family Law

Many things have changed in marriage and divorce over the past 50 years. Some of the biggest changes have involved alimony.

In the past, alimony was expected in almost every divorce. Women had fewer career opportunities than they have today, and so many divorced women needed an ex-husband’s financial support in order to enjoy a standard of living that was anywhere close to what they enjoyed during the marriage. This began to change as women’s roles expanded in the workplace. Rather than being an expected part of a divorce, alimony today is something that courts determine on a case-by-case basis in the interest of fairness. If one spouse was financially dependent upon the other during the marriage and will be in financial distress without support from their ex, a court may determine that alimony is necessary.

Types of alimony

Massachusetts law recognizes four main types of alimony:

  • General alimony: In this type, one party provides financial support to a financially dependent ex-spouse for a period of time. The amount of time generally depends upon the duration of the marriage.
  • Rehabilitative alimony: This type applies in situations in which the receiving party is expected to become financially independent after a specified time or event. For instance, a party might need rehabilitative alimony until they complete a professional degree.
  • Reimbursement alimony: As its name implies, this type is meant to reimburse a spouse for financial contributions they made to the other spouse during the marriage. For instance, a spouse who put the other through graduate school during the marriage may seek reimbursement for those costs through alimony.
  • Transitional alimony: This is a temporary type of alimony that lasts no more than five years, and is intended to help the dependent spouse transition to a new location or lifestyle.

There is some overlap between these categories, and parties may customize their alimony agreements as part of their divorce settlements. In some cases, a divorce settlement can include alimony as a lump sum, in which

Duration of alimony obligations

  • As noted above, the duration of alimony obligations depends upon the duration of the marriage. Under Massachusetts law, there is a formula limiting the duration of alimony orders depending on how long the marriage lasted:
  • If the couple was married for five years or less: Alimony can be required for only 50% of the duration of the marriage. If the couple was married for 20 months, an alimony order can last no more than 10 months.
  • If the couple was married for 10 years or less, the percentage is 60%.
  • For marriages of 15 years or less, the percentage is 70%.
  • For marriages of 20 years or less, the percentage is 80%.
  • For marriages of 20 years or longer, a court has discretion to set the duration of alimony at any length it deems fair.

In all cases, an alimony obligation ends if either spouse dies, if the receiving spouse remarries or the paying spouse reaches full retirement age.

Learn more

The parties often decide on alimony questions during the negotiations over their divorce settlement, but this doesn’t mean all the questions are resolved the moment the divorce is finalized. In some cases, either party may need to make big changes to an alimony order after their life circumstances change. A knowledgeable Massachusetts attorney can help people understand their options for alimony.