In our last two entries, we considered the central features of the Supreme Judicial Court’s (SJC) recent case, Duff-Kareores v. Kareores. Today, we comment briefly on a collateral benefit of the SJC’s opinion in another area the Alimony Reform Act (eff. 3.1.12) (ARA): the “common household” provision of in M.G.L., ch. 208, § 49(d). In its decision, the high court lifted the enumerated criteria of §49(d) (how to prove common household) and grafted them onto §48 (how to prove length of marriage to equitably pre-marital economic partnership during cohabitation).
In doing so, the SJC described §49(d) as the factual basis upon which a judge may reduce, suspend or terminate alimony by reason of a relationship that:
“…resembles, but is not equivalent to a legal marriage.”
In this dictum, the SJC says what the legislature did not with the greatest clarity: that the purpose of §49(d) is to give potential recourse to an alimony payor, without the burden of proving abated financial “need”, when an alimony recipient has assumed a marriage-like relationship. In the bare statute, the only word that connotes this meaning is “couple”, appearing in sub-sections ii. and v.; the dictionary meaning of which is not limited to romantic pairings. (See, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/couple.)
We hope that this collateral comment by the SJC will caution any future litigant against stretching the benefits of §49(d) beyond what we believe be its intended purpose.