July 18, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
The Massachusetts Legislature is trying to correct the plainly wrong rulings of the state’s Supreme Judicial Court regarding its alimony reform law that passed resoundingly in 2011. After much diligent work, legislators passed a law that brought the Bay State’s alimony law, if not into the 21st century, at least into the 20th. It capped the number of years a payor was forced to pay alimony to an ex-spouse, provided that a payor’s retirement at full retirement age ended the obligation to pay and did the same in the event the recipient began cohabiting with another person.
That was all clear enough and most rejoiced that the legislature had at last brought a measure of consistency and fairness to the state’s alimony law. The Supreme Judicial Court, however, didn’t join in the celebration. In fact, it issued opinions in three cases in which it effectively gutted the new law. It did so by deciding that the requests to end a payor’s alimony obligations based on retirement or the payee’s cohabitation were restricted only to cases decided after March 1, 2012, the effective date of the new law.
How did the justices decide such a thing? They found an intent on the part of legislators that those elected officials never knew they had. Now, led by Representative John V. Fernandes, legislators are seeking to right the wrong done by the SJC (Patch, 6/29/16). They’re doing that by backing his bill, HB 4427 that makes explicitly clear that the intent of the Legislature is that the alimony reform law apply to all cases of existing alimony orders. So far, HB 4427 has passed the House unanimously, i.e. 153 – 0.
But once it got to the Senate, it mysteriously disappeared. It did so into the maw of the Senate Ways and Means Committee chaired by the family lawyer and notoriously anti-reform Senator Cynthia Creem. Despite its unanimous support in the House, HB 4427 has failed to move out of committee and no one seems to know why. The legislative session ends on the last day of this month which means action on the bill is required immediately.
State Representative John V. Fernandes, D-Milford, who served a major role in ushering in the Alimony Reform Act of 2011, urged his House colleagues on June 22nd to pass corrective legislation designed to restore the legislative intent behind alimony modification after several recent Supreme Judicial Court decisions. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled in three cases that the retirement and cohabitation provisions of the 2011 Alimony Reform Act do not apply to cases decided before March 1, 2012, the effective date of the reform law, which is contrary to what legislative leaders, including Fernandes, have always intended. Fernandes successfully offered language to restore the original intent of the landmark alimony reform law, which stipulated that all payors of alimony who had judgments in effect before, on, or after March 1, 2012 and met the criteria under the provisions of the law could seek modification of their alimony judgments…
A list of changes Fernandes advocated for in a corrective bill approved on June 22nd included the following provisions:
· The bill restores prior language contained in the 2011 Alimony Reform law that all payors of alimony who had judgments in effect before March 1, 2012 have the same legal options as payors with judgments on or after March 1, 2012.
A payor may seek modification of an “existing alimony judgment” before March 1, 2012, when the payor has reached full retirement age or when the recipient has been cohabitating with another continuously for 3 months.
A court shall consider retirement and cohabitation material changes when ruling on a complaint for modification. However, the court may extend alimony if certain deviation factors apply.
· No existing alimony judgment where the parties have agreed in writing that the existing alimony judgment survives or is otherwise not modifiable cannot be modified unless through the consent of both parties.
It’s time to put a stop to the shenanigans of those who would thwart needed reform via anti-democratic means. The National Parents Organization backs the efforts of Mass Alimony Reform in seeking to pass HB 4427. It’s obviously the most moderate of bills, given that it seeks to do what the Legislature already did five years ago. The court’s action was disgraceful and should be overturned.
Therefore, contact Steve Hitner at Mass Alimony Reform as follows and find out what you can do to blast this bill out of committee and onto the Senate floor where it belongs. The people of Massachusetts and their elected representatives want reform. A handful of key players apparently don’t. It’s time to show those selfish elites who’s boss.
President Mass Alimony Reform
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
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