What is Alimony, and What is it Supposed to Do?

Alimony is one of the types of financial support that can be ordered as part of a divorce, and there are a few different types that we’ll go over in a second.  First, a quick primer on why it even exists in the first place.

Alimony was borne from the need to ensure that a lower-earning spouse was able to survive in the aftermath of a marriage – especially when the lower earning spouse had taken on uncompensated work like raising the kids and other domestic responsibilities.  Historically, this meant that Alimony was primarily awarded to women in divorce because social norms demanded that they stay home and tend the domestic responsibilities and the men worked.  As more and more women have entered the work force and roles in relationships have become more dynamic, men have increasingly been the beneficiary of this type of financial support.

Requesting alimony is part of the divorce proceedings and is not something you can ask for on its own.  However, it will not necessarily be considered by default – you will likely have to ask for it during your case.

The Types of Alimony

In Massachusetts, there are four types of alimony that can be awarded during a divorce.  They are:

  • General Term alimony: This category is for the party who is/was financially dependent on the other. The duration of this type of alimony is paid based on the length of the marriage.
  • Rehabilitative alimony: This category is for a party that would be expected to support themselves after an assumed amount of time. This category will commonly be applied to a spouse who may be recovering from a short-term injury, or is enrolled in an employment training program with an expected end date.
  • Reimbursement alimony: This is for when one spouse provides significant financial support to the other spouse, in an effort to improve the recipient’s skills and abilities. For example, the court may order reimbursement alimony if you paid for your spouse to go through medical school while they focused on being a full-time student and you divorced shortly after.
  • Transitional Alimony: This type is meant to assist one spouse is setting up a new life for themselves after the divorce, but isn’t meant to be long term.  For example, if you kept the house and all the furnishings in it as part of your separation agreement, the judge may order transitional alimony to help your ex-spouse find an apartment and furnish it.

Each type of alimony will have its own limits and rules on when it can be applied and for how long.  Transitional alimony shouldn’t exceed 3 years.  Reimbursement alimony can go on until the judge orders an end to it.  Rehabilitative alimony can go on for up to 5 years, but is subject to extension if the court is shown compelling reasons to do so.

General Term Alimony

General term alimony is one of the more common types, and it also has the most rules around it that you might want to consider.  For example, it has durations based on the length of the marriage, as well has points that can cause automatic stops.  The durations of general term alimony are:

  • 0-5 years of marriage: No more than half the number of months of the marriage.
  • 6-10 years of marriage: No longer than 60% of number of months of the marriage.
  • 11-15 years of marriage: No more than 70% of the number of months of the marriage.
  • 16-20 years of marriage: No more than 80% of the number of months of the marriage.
  • 21 or more years of marriage: Can be indefinite.

General Term alimony can end when the receiving spouse remarries, either spouse dies, or the spouse paying alimony reaches “full retirement age” – defined by when the paying spouse has reached the age where they get full social security benefits.

In addition to the triggers to stop alimony, any amounts awarded can be modified of there is a significant change in circumstances, and you have not agreed in writing that support amounts are fixed. Examples of things that might be cause for changes in alimony are significant loss of income, long term disability, or the recipient has been cohabitating with someone else for 3 consecutive months.

How is Alimony Calculated?

Similar to child support, alimony is calculated by putting numbers through a worksheet that will consider things like the length of your marriage, child support obligations, your income, your age, your lifestyle during the marriage, and so on.  These things will then be held against your soon-to-be-ex’s income, age, obligations, and so on to arrive at a support amount.  By law, the amount of alimony awarded should not exceed the recipient’s need or 30-35% of the difference between your gross incomes.

At O’Connor Family Law, we can help you work through a divorce because we’ve been there before. Our team will help you throughout each step of the process while protecting your rights and defending you from any attack from your spouse.

To learn more about divorce in Massachusetts or Rhode Island and to speak with a member of our team, you can call us or check out our contact us page.