How Is Spousal Support Determined In Massachusetts?

One of the most common questions when going through a divorce is about spousal support. Spousal support is often called alimony, and it is a word that many people hear but don’t quite understand. When you hear about divorces involving famous people, most often there are orders for large amounts of alimony. You may hear about alimony payments in the millions when a movie star divorces, or in cases of people who are very rich. But what if you or your spouse don’t earn more than six figures? Does alimony still come into play? The answer is simply that it could. Alimony is based on the financial situation of both spouses.

In Massachusetts, alimony can be awarded to either spouse, and is gender neutral. The judge bases the decision on several factors from section 34 of chapter 208 of MGL, such as

  • How long the marriage lasted;
  • The age and health of each spouse;
  • The income of each spouse;
  • Employability or employment of each spouse;
  • Any training required for one spouse to find employment;
  • The contribution of each spouse to the marriage;
  • The standard of living during the marriage; and
  • Any lost opportunity of a spouse during marriage.

While there is no set formula for determining spousal support, there are laws in Massachusetts that require that spousal support not exceed the recipient’s need or up to 35% of the difference between the income earned by each spouse. The laws do allow for exceptional cases, where the judge can, in his or her discretion, make alternative orders on the amount of spousal support.

Another factor that may influence the amount of spousal support is child support. If the divorce order includes an order for child support, the amount of child support paid will be deducted from the payer’s income before spousal support is considered. While one spouse can receive both child support and spousal support, the amount of child support paid will be deducted from the paying spouse’s income. In many cases the considered child support will reduce the payer’s income to a level where spousal support is not awarded.

While child support and spousal support are both money that is paid by an ex-spouse, they are different in terms of taxes. Spousal support is deductible by the payer on his or her tax returns, while child support is not. Also, spousal support is considered taxable income to the recipient on his or her tax returns, while child support is not. So, payment of spousal support will affect each spouse’s taxes differently than child support.

An order for spousal support is most often for a determined period of time, based on the length of the marriage. It usually does not continue indefinitely, but it can in some cases where there has been a long-term marriage.

When there is an order for spousal support, but the payer does not pay it, the recipient can file a Complaint for Contempt. In some cases, the Court will order that the payer’s wages be garnished.

Spousal support owed cannot be discharged in bankruptcy as debt.

When filing for divorce, if you feel that you are eligible for spousal support or you think you may have to pay spousal support, speak with your attorney to determine whether that is a possibility. If you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement on whether there will be spousal support (and, if so, how much and for how long), the court will make the final determination.

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