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


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