The New Year began with the January 2d release of an alimony case, Vedensky v. Vedensky, by the Massachusetts Appeals Court. In our last entry, we reviewed several important aspects of the case that the appellate court addressed clearly and helpfully. We suggested that they could have, and should have stopped there, as addressing the question of the Husband’s needs was unnecessary – and we say problematic - in the way that they chose to do it.
Every alimony case requires a determination of needs of the recipient. This was true under statutory and case law before the Alimony Reform Act (eff.3.1.12); and it is no less true now. In earlier blog entries, we expressed concern about the direction of previous ARA cases, Hassey and Zaleski, in particular, on the matter of needs
In this case, the trial court found that the husband’s expenses exceeded his reported income by $525 per week. Yet the judge ordered the wife to pay him $635 of weekly alimony. Since the appellate judges were reversing on the question of the wife’s income anyway (see our previous entry) they need not have addressed this issue at all. But, instead, the Appeals Court examined what they identified as “alimony beyond stated needs” and concluded that the trial judge was justified in exceeding the husband’s claim of needs presumably because the judge was imposing new uninsured medical expenses on the husband because his judgment mandated psychological treatment during the 2-year period of alimony.
If the judge increased the husband’s expenses, that could certainly translate into higher need; and, the husband’s expenses then might be higher than that which he, himself, had claimed. In this highly unusual context, the Appeals Court’s conclusion that “A judge…is not bound strictly by the stated needs of an alimony recipient” is fair enough, but not so as a general statement of principle. In the critical early period of ARA case development, we fear that this broad brush will come back to the courts as a lever to further distance alimony determinations from the historical anchor of needs. In most cases most of the time, litigants should not expect that their alimony results will exceed their own, often self-serving, assessments of need; and the appellate courts should not imply otherwise.
In our last blog entry, we speculated on the potential impact of having general alimony law decided so heavily in short term rehabilitative alimony cases, and we worry that this case may be one example of that effect.