July 13, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
They could ask me. I’d provide a straightforward, easy and fair way out of their dilemma.
But so far the Massachusetts Legislature hasn’t called and so they’re stuck (Boston Globe, 7/9/17). It’s all about the alimony reform law that became effective in 2011. Prior to that, the Bay State had one of the worst alimony laws in the country. Countless ex-husbands were supporting ex-wives literally until their dying breath. Sometimes for decades, men were supporting able-bodied women who could no longer be bothered to give them the time of day and were of course not contributing to the economy of the state.
So belatedly, the legislature passed and the governor signed a bill that made real but modest reforms. Permanent alimony was done away with, schedules were set that would put an end to the judicial crap-shoot that were alimony orders and cohabitation by the receiving spouse put an end to the payer’s obligation.
But, the new law didn’t quite put the issue of alimony to rest. The state’s highest court, via some astonishing legal legerdemain, ruled that the law didn’t apply to alimony cases decided prior to its effective date. That was despite the fact that the law, and the clear intent of the legislature, seemed to say that it did.
Since then, alimony orders issued prior to the law’s effective date have remained intact which places the legislature in a bind. It can pass a new law making clear its intention that all alimony orders are impacted or it can pass one saying the older ones remain in effect. What to do? If it does the former, many people who’ve been living on those checks will find themselves without income. If it does the latter, all the reasons for reforming the law in the first place demand a hearing. After all, if the new law is fair (it’s at least an improvement), encourages adults to be self-reliant (it does) and is the policy of the state (it is), why shouldn’t it apply in all cases?
Apparently legislators can’t decide. They seem to think that, regardless of what they do, they’ll make one set of constituents angry.
That’s where I come in. Or at least where I should come in.
I’ve written a lot about alimony and there is a fair and simple way to reform those laws that would be sound public policy. I’ve said that, with narrowly-tailored exceptions, alimony shouldn’t exist. The reasons are many, but they include basic concepts like all able-bodied adults being self-supporting and not encouraging divorce or discouraging marriage, which alimony clearly does. One exception is short-term alimony for exes who’ve been out of the workplace to care for kids or other family members and need the time to get their work skills up to speed. Another exception is alimony for very old or disabled exes who realistically can’t work.
Now, I understand that the Massachusetts Legislature has spoken and it didn’t adopt the above. Still it can apply the same principles to the only class of alimony orders that are in question, i.e. those that were issued prior to the effective date of the 2011 reform law. The new law, if there is one, can apply only to those orders. It should allow any ex-spouse who want to seek a modification to come into court and do so. A court could modify existing orders to require exes who can work to do so and to stop alimony payments in those cases. If a spouse needs time to re-train, then a limited amount of time should be granted at the end of which, alimony would stop. And if an ex-spouse is too old or disabled to work and earn, alimony should be continued.
That’s all fair and reasonable, it seems to me. Plus, it spares legislators their angst over making voters angry. No one should be offended by being asked to support themselves if they’re able to do so and granting a reasonable period of time for retraining shouldn’t be cause for outrage. And if a person is truly too old or infirm to support themselves, the payer shouldn’t take umbrage at being asked to continue the support.
None of this is difficult to understand, but the legislature appears intent on making things more difficult than need be. Of course all they have to do is call me. I’ll be glad to explain it to them.
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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