April 14, 2015
By Robert Franklin, Esq., Member of the Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Following up on the Massachusetts alimony rulings by the Supreme Judicial Court, the Chin case, referred to in my previous piece does much the same regarding cohabitation as the Doktor case did regarding retirement. The Alimony Reform Act purports to allow alimony to be modified or terminated in case the payer reaches retirement age or the payee cohabitates with another person for three months or more. Indeed, the language of the statute is not permissive, but mandatory.
"General term alimony shall be suspended, reduced or terminated upon the cohabitation of the recipient spouse when the payor shows that the recipient spouse has maintained a common household, as defined in this subsection, with another person for a continuous period of at least 3 months."
As when the payer reaches retirement age, when the payee cohabitates for longer than three months, “alimony shall be suspended, reduced or terminated...” But, again as with retirement, the SJC interpreted those words in the Chin case to mean that the payer is entitled to neither suspension, reduction nor termination of alimony. That’s because his order came before the effective date of the ARA, despite the fact that his obligation continues every month. That is, the modification sought would not be retroactive, but would only affect future payments.
As attorney Robin Lynch Nardone points out,
The result is one that seems strikingly unfair and unreasonable - a payor who was divorced on March 1, 2012 may obtain a reduction, suspension or termination of his alimony obligation if the recipient shares a common household for more than three months, but a payor who was divorced one day earlier cannot obtain that same relief. While the SJC has made clear that this was the Legislature's intention, the result seems to fly in the face of what the Alimony Reform Act was intended to accomplish.
The legislature passed the ARA unanimously. Will it act to close these loopholes discovered by the SJC?