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Alimony and Spousal Support

Alimony (also referred to as spousal support) consists of payments made by one spouse to the other spouse, which can be required both before and after a divorce is final.  Since significant amounts of money are at stake, alimony is often one of the most contentious parts of a divorce.

The spouse receiving the alimony payments must be deemed “in need” of such payments. Determining an alimony award the court considers many different factors depending on the type of award.

What Types of Alimony Are Available?

  1. General Term –The spouse receiving this type of alimony must be economically dependent on the spouse making the payments.  Alimony payments usually are terminate upon the receiving spouse’s remarriage, the paying spouse reaching retirement age, or death of either party.

The amount may also be diminished should the receiving spouse choose to co-habitate  with another person. Cohabitation means the individual receiving the alimony maintains a common household with another, continuously, for more than three months. A common household is understood as two people who are in a marriage-like relationship who share a primary residence together either with or without others. Courts have looked at certain factors to make this determination:

    1. Opinions of third parties on the couple’s relationship
    2. Co-mingling of finances between the two
    3. Engaging in behavior that suggests furthering a future together
    4. Benefits that either party is receiving because of the relationship
    5. Reputation as a couple
  1. Length of time of alimony payments – In Massachusetts, courts have the discretion to increase the length of time for alimony payments as justice will require; otherwise the time periods are as follows:
    1. 5 years or less of marriage – 50% the number of months of the marriage*
    2. 5-10 years of marriage – 60% the number of months of the marriage*
    3. 10-15 years of marriage – 70% the number of months of the marriage*
    4. 15-20 years of marriage – 80% the number of moths of the marriage*
    5. 20 years or more of marriage – alimony can be given for an indefinite period of time

*Number of months of marriage = date of legal marriage until the divorce complaint is served or petition for separate support is filed

  1. Rehabilitative – This is alimony that is paid for up to 5 years to allow the receiving spouse to become economically self-sufficient. It can be extended longer than 5 years if the receiving spouse can show a compelling reason for the extension and the supporting spouse can afford to make additional payments without creating too much of a burden.

The amount of payment can be modified depending on substantial changes in circumstances to either spouse. Termination occurs upon remarriage of the receiving spouse, death of either spouse, or a specified event. Courts usually grant this when it can be shown that the receiving spouse has the education, skills, or means to reenter the job market in a short period of time.

  • Reimbursement – Also known as a one-time payment, or series of payments, made by one spouse to another to compensate for economic or non-economic contributions that occurred within the marriage. The marriage must last less than 5 years to be eligible.

The most common situation is one where a spouse paid for education or job training for the other spouse during the marriage. It is not necessary that the receiving spouse actually be in need of the repayment for the reimbursement to be awarded. Termination only occurs upon death of either spouse. The alimony conditions are not modifiable.

  • Transitional – Courts typically will award transitional alimony in cases where the marriage has lasted less than 5 years. It takes the form of a one-time payment. The purpose is to help the receiving spouse adjust to a new lifestyle after divorce. Most commonly it is awarded when the recipient spouse must relocate. The payment must take place before 3 years after the divorce has been finalized.

How Much Alimony Will Be Awarded?

Generally, alimony amounts are not to exceed 30-35% of the difference between the spouses’ individual gross income. Courts are allowed to award more than 35% if justice requires or if they are awarding reimbursement alimony.

One of the key factors in determining the amount to be awarded is lost economic opportunities of either spouse. If one spouse has foregone economic opportunities as a result of the marriage, alimony is a tool to help compensate for such losses.

What are the Tax Implications of Alimony?

Payments will be deducted by the paying spouse and will be included in the gross income of the receiving spouse.

Get What You Need and Deserve

Alimony calculations and the factors that can lead to adjustment by the court are complex.  If you are in the position of potentially having to pay, or to receive, alimony, it will be in your best interest to seek the guidance and representation of an experienced divorce attorney.  Please call me at (978) 851-5145 to schedule a free consultation.

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