Alimony: Temporary vs. General

The Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011 identifies different types of alimony and sets limits on how long alimony may last. The limits on “general term” alimony are based on duration of a marriage. See G.L. c. 208, §49. Now state courts are sorting out the legal issues that arise as they apply the new laws. The recent case of Holmes v. Holmes is the first Supreme Judicial Court decision to directly address the new law. See Holmes v. Holmes, SJC-11538, slip op. (Apr. 2, 2014).

            The issue in Holmes is whether “temporary” alimony awarded before a final judgment should be counted toward the duration limit on “general term” alimony. “Temporary” alimony is spousal support ordered to be paid during the pendency of a divorce action, before the final judgment order. G.L. c. 208, § 17. In Holmes, a husband was ordered to pay temporary alimony for two years and four months before a final judgment was entered. He argued that those years of payments should count toward the durational limit on general alimony.

To many people’s surprise, the court disagreed. It held that “temporary alimony is separate and distinct from general term alimony, and that the duration of temporary alimony is not included in calculating the maximum presumptive duration of general term alimony.” Holmes.  However, the court did allow that:

“where temporary alimony is unusually long in duration or where the party receiving temporary alimony has caused unfair delay in the issuance of a final judgment in order to prolong the length of time in which alimony may be paid, a judge in her discretion may consider the duration of temporary alimony in determining the duration of general term alimony.”

Id.; see M.G.L. c. 208, §53(a) (judge may consider other factors that are “relevant and material” to determine appropriate duration of alimony).

These and other recent changes to alimony law affect all cases: current, past, and future. Don’t leave your alimony income or liability to chance! If you have questions about divorce, child support, or alimony, contact the experienced attorneys at Hutchins Law, P.C. today.

The purpose of this article is to inform our clients of developments in the law and to provide information of general interest. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or to assume a client relationship. The content of this article could be considered advertising under the rules of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Copyright © 2012 Hutchins Law, P.C. All Rights Reserved.