Divorce Mediation Blog

“Self-Modifying” Divorce Judgments: The Appeals Court Feels Strongly Both Ways. Hassey v. Hassey, Part One

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

In the recent case of Hassey v. Hassey, the Appeals Court reversed Judge Jeffrey A. Abber of the Essex Probate and Family Court, in part, for ordering alimony as a percentage of the husband’s ongoing income, rather than as a flat sum. They justices ruled that the judge had pre-decreed a modification of his own judgment based on facts and circumstances that had not yet changed. Thus, they reasoned, he deprived the husband of the right to resist such a change based on the host of other material and substantial changes that might occur in the interim, in the context of a complaint for modification.

This part of the decision was not surprising. The principle enunciated arises from long-standing precedent, with only 2 previous reported and relatively narrow appellate exceptions. Yet, curiously, the Appeals Court did not vacate that part of the judgment that determined that alimony shall terminate upon the wife’s cohabitation. Before the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 (eff. 3.1.12), this provision would have been absolutely contrary to law. Now, cohabitation is a statutorily recognized basis for change.

But the statute does not dictate the kind or extent of change. The law provides that if cohabitation occurs within the definition provided in the act, then the court shall do something. However, it requires the modifying judge to calibrate the remedy to the circumstances that exist at the time of the cohabitation. A judge may reduce, suspend or terminate alimony. So, when the Hassey judgment decreed that the wife’s cohabitation would automatically terminate alimony, the wife was denied the right, assured by the Alimony Reform Act, to resist termination based on the host of other material and substantial changes that might occur in the interim, in the context of a complaint for modification.

Did the wife fail to perfect this as an issue on appeal, relieving the court of an obligation to address it? We cannot know from the text of the decision. Without doubt, though, the decision is inconsistent, and the cause of consistency and predictability, its victim.

Next: Needs versus 30-35% in Section 53(b): In Its First Foray, Has the Appeals Court Legislated? Hassey v. Hassey, Part Two

Get e-mail notifications of new blog posts! Enter email address below.:

Delivered by FeedBurner

other articles

recent posts


arbitration mediator arbitrator high-risk methodology Child Support Guidelines disputes divorce and family law mediators Massachusetts lawyers Divorce Agreements litigation alimony statute med-arb arbitrators lawyer-attended mediation Family Law Arbitration private dispute resolution Defense of Marriage Act divorce litigation Act Reforming Alimony in the Commonwealth family and probate law disputes Massachusetts alimony and child support alimony orders Baseball Players Baseball Arbitration separation mediations fraud how baseball arbitration works SJC special master Chouteau Levine Baseball Self-adjusting alimony orders health insurance Massachusetts alimony mediation Alimony Reform Act Major League Baseball Arbitration resolve disputes Massachusetts lawyers LDRC family law arbitrators Massachusetts divorce lawyers DOMA divorce mediator family support family law mediation self-adjusting alimony child support divorce and family law Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act Obamacare General term alimony divorced lawyer COLA alimony law divorce arbitration The Seven Sins of Alimony Divorce family mediation dispute resolution divorce arbitrators annulment med/arb divorce judgment divorce mediation family law health coverage Levine Dispute Resolution Massachusetts divorce mediators divorce process Boston alimony reform legislation Cohabitation facilitated negotiations divorce lawyers IRC §2704 Levine Dispute Resolutions support orders divorce mediators mediators pre-ARA alimony MLB labor agreement Uniform Arbitration Act Same Sex Marriage divorce agreement Levine Dispute Resolution Center alimony conciliation traditional negotiations family law arbitrator divorce arbitrator Levine Dispute Resolution Center LLC rehabilitative alimony Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly medical benefits Matrimonial Arbitration divorce mediations