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Correcting Chin v. Merriott: Legislative Update

As reported by Justin L. Kelsey of Skylark Law & Mediation, P.C. last month, State Representative John Fernandes, one of the chairs of the task force that produced the Alimony Reform Act of 2011, has proposed a bill to address the issue that the Supreme Judicial Court had in the retroactive effect of the cohabitation and retirement age provisions in Chin v. Merriot.  The bill has been gaining some traction since its introduction, and is currently in the House Steering, Policy and Scheduling Committee.

The bill’s current text reads as follows:

SECTION 1. Section 53 of chapter 208 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2014 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting after the word “order”, in line 24, the following words:- ,except in cases where deviation applies pursuant to GL c.208 § 53(e).

SECTION 2. Said chapter 208 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by adding the following section:-

Section 56. No existing alimony judgment under sections 48 to 55, inclusive, of chapter 208 where the parties have agreed in writing that the existing alimony judgment is not modifiable shall be modified by a court without the consent of both parties.

SECTION 3. Chapter 124 of the Acts of 2011 is hereby amended by striking out section 4 and inserting in place thereof the following section:-

Section 4. (a) As used in this section the following terms shall, unless the context clearly requires otherwise, have the following meanings:-

“Alimony”, the payment of support from a spouse, who has the ability to pay, to a spouse in need of support for a reasonable length of time, under a court order.

“Existing alimony judgment”, an order of a court to pay alimony entered by a court prior to March 1, 2012.

“General term alimony”, the periodic payment of support to a recipient spouse who is economically dependent.

“Payor” a spouse required by order of a court to pay alimony or general term alimony.

“Recipient”, a spouse receiving by order of a court alimony or general term alimony.

(b) Existing alimony judgments shall be general term alimony as that term is defined in section 48 of chapter 208 of the General Laws.

(c) Unless otherwise provided in this section, existing alimony judgments shall terminate pursuant to the terms of such existing alimony judgment or pursuant to an order of modification entered by a court.

(d) An existing alimony judgment which has exceeded the durational limits established by said subsection (b) of said section 49 of said chapter 208 may be modified upon the filing of a complaint for modification and the court shall order modification unless the court finds that deviation is necessary under section 53(e) of said chapter 208.

(e) A payor of alimony paying alimony pursuant to an existing alimony judgment may file a complaint for modification of the existing alimony judgment if the recipient is determined to be a cohabitating pursuant to subsection (d) of said section 49 of said chapter 208. A court considering a complaint for modification of an existing alimony judgment pursuant to this subsection shall consider the recipient’s cohabitation a material change in circumstances when ruling on the complaint for modification.

(f) A payor of alimony paying alimony pursuant to an existing alimony judgment may file a complaint for modification of the existing alimony judgment if the payor has reached full retirement age pursuant to subsection (f) of said section 49 of said chapter 208. A court considering a complaint for modification of an existing alimony judgment pursuant to this subsection shall consider the payor’s reaching full retirement age a material change in circumstances when ruling on the complaint for modification.

(g) No existing alimony judgment under this section where the parties have agreed in writing that the existing alimony judgment is not modifiable shall be modified by a court without the consent of both parties.

If you have any questions about alimony in Massachusetts, check out the Massachusetts Alimony Reform page, or contact the attorneys at Finn & Eaton, P.C. in Woburn and Saugus by calling 781 484-1066, or sending an email to schedule a free initial consultation.

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