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Divorce Mediation Blog

O Pfannenstiehl! Part 2: No Wonder We’re All Confused (The Appeals Court Doesn’t Even Agree With Itself)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

At least they aren't throwing food at each other, or publicly calling each other names, as the current U.S. Supreme Court is wont to do. In our last blog entry, we discussed the interesting turn in this appeal, from a minority of 1, to a majority of 3 justices, in search of consensus of all Massachusetts Appeals Court, taking this important case away from the judges who heard it, in favor of a majority of the overall bench.

But, the reconstituted majority opinion doesn’t even agree with itself. Here’s why.

Almost casually, the prevailing opinion concluded that:

  1. the husband’s beneficial trust interest is a marital asset;
  2. the husband’s interest is worth 1/11 of the [presumably gross] corpus;
  3. that the wife’s share of the husband’s interest is 60% thereof; and
  4. the husband (in addition to yielding 60% of the non-trust assets) should pay out the wife’s share of his trust interest, in cash, over a 2-year period.

This, despite the fact that the husband is part of a beneficiary class that is open to expansion, and that the trust (no matter how indifferently administered in the past) provides no apparent means by which the husband could compel distributions to pay out the required sums to the wife.

But having concluded and implicitly ruled that the husband could make the required payments…

The court then proceeded to vacate the trial court’s judgment of contempt, in which she found the husband guilty, after he stopped paying the monthly sum to the wife. The reason: that he did not have the ability to pay because the trustees had declined to distribute the funds.
Thus, in the same decision, the Appeals Court ruled that:

  1. The husband as an enforceable right to receive distributions, which gives him the ability to pay out the required sum; and
  2. Because the trustees refused to make distributions that the court concluded he can compel, the wife cannot enforce judgment.

At least, the trial court had the courage of its conviction.

So, what does this opinion do for Mrs. Pfannenstiehl, as a practical matter? We’ll tackle that in our next entry.

 

O Pfannenstiehl! No Wonder We're All Confused Part 1: The Appeals Court's Fuzzy Math

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Lawyers will be talking about the recent Massachusetts Appeals Court case, Pfannenstiehl v. Pfannenstiehl, for years to come.  Decided on the question of what happens when trusts and divorce collide, it is rocking the family law and estate planning bar, alike.  We have read it, read it and read it again; and like pollen in allergy season, and the winter snows of 2015, the head-scratchers just keep coming. 

Over subsequent blog entries, we will address the substance of the case (there’s lots to talk about), but for today, we are most curious about the fact that this controversial decision was decided by one panelist (Justice Berry) of the three who heard the case, while the majority disagreed strongly enough to write (Justice Fecteau) and join in (Justice Kantrowitz) a, exceedingly rare family law dissent, a compelling one at that.

From footnote 2 of the decision, we learn that the panel was “expanded” to include two justices who did not participate in the argument of the case, but jumped in only after the circulation of the opinion.  Admittedly unfamiliar with this process, which struck us a bit like expanding the World Series to nine games because the wrong team won, we read the authority cited, and found that it is grounded in Mass. R.A.P. 24 (a); and that:

    The procedure that was followed reflects a long-standing practice of the Appeals Court, designed to ensure that published opinions reflect the view of a majority of the Justices. See Lyons v. Labor Relations Commn., 19 Mass. App. Ct. 562 , 566 n.7 (1985), indicating that published opinions are considered by the entire court prior to release. In the case of a dissent, if a majority of all the Justices agrees with the majority of the panel, the decision is published as a two to one decision of the original panel. If a majority of all the Justices agrees with the dissent, the panel is enlarged to reflect the view of the majority of the court, generally by adding to the panel the two senior Justices who are part of the full court majority.

Sciaba Constr. Corp. v. Boston, 35 Mass. App. Ct. 181, 181 n.2, 617 N.E.2d 1023 (1993) (our underlining).

Let’s break it down:

  1. In the case of a dissent, if a majority of all the Justices agrees with the majority of the panel, the decision is published as a two to one decision of the original panel.

    The opposite occurred, here. An apparent majority of the court agreed with Justice Berry, who was the minority on the panel.

  2. If a majority of all the Justices agrees with the dissent, the panel is enlarged to reflect the view of the majority of the court, generally by adding to the panel the two senior Justices who are part of the full court majority. 

    The implication is that Justice Berry began as the lone dissenter. She then succeeded in gaining a majority, off-panel, consigning the panel majority to the dissent; and, reversing the will of the panel.

Apparently, the events of this case are not unique, but we presume them to be uncommon. One result of this action is that the Appeals Court negated the majority opinion of the justices whom the litigants assumed, incorrectly, would determine their fate.

Is this good policy? As long as Rule 1:28 exists, might it not have been better to simply allow the panel majority to stand, and if the rest of the justices felt it just, limit its impact beyond the parties themselves, with a non-precedent, unpublished opinion?

Were this case a simple one or if it were unassailable in its analysis and result, this curious procedure might matter a whole lot less. But as we will discuss in subsequent entries, this case is anything but. In our view, it is highly problematic.

We hear that a request for further appellate review before the Supreme Judicial Court is likely (if not already pending); and we hope that the SJC takes it. If so, we also hope that the SJC reviews the “longstanding practice” of re-constituting the panel in these circumstances.

Before Yankees fans were cut down to size in 2004, some used to joke that 1975 was the only World Series ever won, 3-4. Maybe the Series actually did revert to nine games that year, and we all just didn’t know it!

 

Who Says that Mediation Needs Reclaiming?

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Maybe we are the victims of poor training, but we don't think so. In fact our training was pretty good. At core, we learned that divorce mediation is:

A confidential...form of structured negotiation designed to help the clients reach an informed agreement with the assistance of one impartial mediator...the goal of mediation is to reach a fair and lasting agreement, one which will be approved by the appropriate court and allow the clients to divorce. Read more

 

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN: PRE-ARA ALIMONY PAYORS CAN’T STOP PAYING AT RETIREMENT AGE JUST BECAUSE THE LAW CHANGED Chin v. Merriot, Rodman v. Rodman & Doktor v. Doktor Part 2 (Cohabitation)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

In our last entry, we reviewed the common central holding of this trio of cases; namely, that with the sole exception of the presumptive general term alimony durational limits for marriages that lasted 20 or fewer years, alimony payors under judgments that preceded the Alimony Reform Act (eff. 3.1.12) (ARA) cannot benefit from the presumptive retirement age termination provisions of the statute. Today, we look at what seems a particularly unfair precedent on cohabitation that Chin v. Merriot sets.

While many believe that these cases were decided wrongly on the retirement age question, as a matter of statutory construction, there was an unspoken principle that may have understandably influenced the Supreme Judicial Court’s (SJC) rulings. Specifically, countless pre-ARA alimony recipients negotiated property and support deals in a legal environment where alimony payors had no expectation of any pre-ordained termination of alimony short of death or, presumptively, the ex-spouse’s remarriage. Most payors could not afford to pay a premium great enough to achieve an automatic retirement, or retirement age, termination; therefore, payees lacked the “opportunity” to demand one, such as a higher alimony sum, or more property. The prospect of having have these alimony recipients made vulnerable to a presumptive retirement age cut-off that did not exist at the time of their divorces created the aura of potential, and in many cases, substantial inequity. Had they known, one might have worried, the payees might have negotiated differently; and they may have lived and planned differently in the period between divorce and the legislature’s alimony overhaul.

In Chin v. Merriot, though, the SJC went a step further in response to the Husband’s claim of relief due to the Wife’s cohabitation. The same huge class of alimony recipients, who rightfully did not anticipate a presumptive retirement age termination, also did not expect that the status of cohabitation with another person would require a court to reduce, suspend or stop alimony, when they made their deals. Since all of that changed with the ARA, one might be tempted to say that the same putative inequities existed that would justify pulling cohabitation within the sweep of the SJC’s retirement age rulings; but one would be wrong.

There is a huge difference.

First, every alimony recipient has been on notice since 1990’s Freedman v. Freedman that at least to the extent that a cohabiting relationship was found to reduce need for alimony, relief was available to the alimony payor. M.G.L., ch. 208, §49(d) codified the remedy, made it more explicit and did not stress the requirement of showing need reduction. But, the mere fact that the statutory relief can range from a $1 reduction to outright termination shows the needs question to be a live one under ARA, just as it was before. Every alimony recipient for the last quarter century has been fairly chargeable with the knowledge that cohabiting can jeopardize alimony – very unlike mere retirement age. Second, and more compellingly, since the legislature passed the ARA in 2011, and certainly since its effective date on March 1, 2012, everyone who has paid attention to alimony matters at all, has been on notice that the court must now do something, if a common household is properly pleaded and proved. No one cohabiting in 2015 could justifiably plead unfair surprise.

So, it follows that the prejudice to alimony recipients on the cohabitation question is not remotely the same as to those of those for whom retirement age termination was really an abstraction. Certainly, those who commence cohabitation after March 1, 2012, are fully on notice of their vulnerability should they choose to pursue a common household.

We wonder if the SJC considered these differences in deciding Chin v. Merriot, but felt no alternative to sweeping cohabitation in with retirement age so as to justify their reading of uncodified §4 of the ARA as trumping M.G.L., ch. § 49(f). Whatever the court’s reasoning, pre-ARA payors take the hits uniformly. On retirement age, we can see it; but on cohabitation – at least post-ARA cohabitation – clearly not.

It is very – very – hard to believe that this furthers the legislature’s intent.

We will conclude our discussion of these cases the next time, with another aspect of the Rodman v. Rodman decision that should really keep alimony payors – and their lawyers --- up at night.

 

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN: PRE-ARA ALIMONY PAYORS CAN’T STOP PAYING AT RETIREMENT AGE JUST BECAUSE THE LAW CHANGED Chin v. Merriot, Rodman v. Rodman & Doktor v. Doktor Part 1

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

O.K., let’s get the sexist title out of the way. Alimony law is gender blind on paper, but in the pre-Alimony Reform Act (ARA) (eff. 3.1.12) era, most alimony payors were (and are) men. To be fair and accurate, the Chin, Rodman and Doktor cases are equally bad news for pre-ARA alimony payors who are women. It’s only a blog title.

Now, for the cases.

In one remarkable morning last year, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), heard oral arguments on three cases that all turned on a single question: do alimony payors whose divorce judgments entered before ARA’s effective date have the benefit of substantive termination and modification rights changes that the new law has wrought? The answers, delivered three times over, also on the same day, is “no”, with the sole exception of the presumptive general term alimony durational limits for marriages that lasted 20 or fewer years.

Put more positively, an alimony payor whose divorce judgment preceded March 1, 2012 can seek a termination of alimony by reason of the ARA durational limit having been reached (50% of up to 5 year marriages, 60% of 5+ to 10 year marriages, 70% of 10+ to 15 year marriages and 80% of 15+ to 20 year marriages), without proving any other change of circumstances. But, we already knew that. Everyone else is left to the pre-ARA uncertainties and heavy burdens of prior decisional law, most notably including Pierce v. Pierce.

The three cases were variations on a theme: a payor asking to stop general term alimony payments because M.G.L., c. 208, § 49(f) says that such payments shall terminate at the payor’s attainment of social security retirement age. In Chin, the husband had reached that age before his divorce, while the Rodman and Doktor payors attained retirement age after divorce. Mr. Chin argued that M.G.L., chapter 208, section 49(f) trumps the “uncodified” section 4 of ARA (which provides that, excepting durational limits for >20-year marriages, ARA is not itself a material change of circumstances). Mr. Chin also argued that cohabitation modification rights (another “shall” in the statute) should apply retroactively. Mr. Rodman asserted that a merged alimony agreement merits different treatment than those cases with surviving agreements. Mr. Doktor claimed that his former wife no longer had the financial need for alimony.

All three of the plaintiffs failed. The SJC concluded that a comprehensive view of the ARA statute yields a clear legislative determination that uncodified sections 4-6 override the more payor-friendly substantive sections of M.G.L., c. 208, § 49-55 with the sole exception of general term durational limits. Agree or disagree, it is a clear rule. It is most certainly bad news for pre-ARA payors; and it protects their former spouses from having the rug pulled out from under support deals made when automatic retirement age termination was not obtainable in court, and rarely even negotiable, under then prevailing law. The SJC had a binary decision to make; and its reading of legislative intent promotes the payees’ interests over the payors’.

In our next entry, we will look at what seems a particularly unfair precedent on cohabitation that Chin v. Merriot sets, that is quite different than the retirement age question; and an aspect of Rodman v. Rodman that should really cost alimony payors some sleep.

 

Another Rehabilitative Alimony Case Highlights Important Issues, But Muddles Need Further: Vedensky v. Vedensky – Part 1

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The New Year began with the January 2d release of an alimony case, Vedensky v. Vedensky, by the Massachusetts Appeals Court. It is noticeable for several reasons:

  1. It is the latest in a line of cases addressing rehabilitative alimony, that until 2012, was exceedingly rare in Massachusetts, but which has dominated alimony case law development since;
  2. The court clarified the concept of an “earlier judgment” when determining whether a “material change of circumstances” has occurred that may justify a modification of alimony;
  3. The case drew a clear line on the question of second or secondary jobs that a payor obtains after divorce, and tied it to income attribution rules;
  4. The panel approved application of Social Security Administration (SSA) disability rules in defining a partially disabled recipient’s income capacity; and, finally,
  5. The Appeals Court unfortunately muddied the increasingly murky waters of “needs” in relation to alimony rights.

Determined to start 2015 in a positive note, we will discuss the first four points here, and the last, lamented, one in a separate, subsequent entry.

The rehabilitative alimony phenomenon. An out-sized proportion of the appellate cases decided under the Alimony Reform Act (eff. 3.1.12) to date are appeals from rehabilitative alimony awards. While this short-term support remedy was never foreclosed here, its application was inhibited by case law prohibitions on pre-determined termination dates generally, which was itself a major spur for the reform effort. This must be a popular part of the new statute, causing rapid case law development as judges grant rehabilitative orders and necessarily grapple with it conceptually, and with the relevant factors to apply all alimony questions, namely ability to pay and the needs of the recipient. It also means that rules that will more often apply to general term alimony (we assume) are being made in the less usual context of fixed, short-term support. We wonder how this may impact those rules.

The applicable judgment against which to measure change. The alimony question in Vendensky was advanced by a 2011 complaint for modification brought by the former husband. The parties did not make alimony provisions in their divorce agreement/judgment, but they expressly reserved the parties’ rights to seek alimony in the future. They stipulated to child support orders, paid by husband to wife. In 2007, the husband sought reduction of child support because of job loss, psychiatric disability and SSA disability dependent payments now payable to the wife. He succeeded. When his disability persisted, the husband brought his alimony modification action.

The wife advanced a defense that the action was barred because the Husband’s employment problems (he had actually become partially re-employed) and disability had preceded the child support modification judgment. Predictably, she argued that since no material negative change occurred since that judgment, it was impossible for the husband to meet his burden of proving material change to justify further support relief. The husband argued, and the trial judge and Appeals Court agreed, however, that the material change burden ran from the facts existing at the time of divorce the last time that alimony was addressed (i.e., no disability or employment problems); and not from the later child support modification judgment, when alimony was not in issue.

This was an important decision, if not entirely novel. To find otherwise, the appellate court reasoned, would compel parties to seek alimony when it is not needed, so as to protect against being foreclosed from requesting it a later date when it might become necessary.

Second or secondary jobs. The wife is a doctor who had a primary full time job that she elected to augment with per diem moonlighting at a rehabilitation hospital, post-divorce. In evaluating her ability to pay alimony, the trial judge included the income from her second job when calculating the wife’s income available for support, despite the presumption of M.G.L., chapter 208, section 54(b) that suggests that such earnings not be considered. Overreaching further, the judge imputed income to the wife by finding that she could make even greater income money by moonlighting more!

The Appeals Court correctly vacated these income findings because the Probate and Family Court judge did not find any facts that amounted to a rebuttal of the presumption against including the wife’s second job income, especially, here, where the wife was working a side-job as primary caretaker of the parties’ children, with no financial contribution from the husband (other than SSA payments on his behalf). The double insult of attributing income to the more than fully employed wife was equally out-of-bounds, the appellate panel found, since the judge did not find, and could not have found, the wife to be “underemployed”.

The Appeals Court intersected the two statutory provisions with one concise ruling, that:

    … a party who works at a full-time or full-time equivalent job may not be found to be “unemployed” or “underemployed” based on the level of compensation received from a second job obtained “after entry of the initial order” unless a judge concludes…that a basis exists for rebutting the presumption of immateriality applicable to the income earned from the second job.

A useful and sensible conclusion.

The husband’s income capacity. The trial judge determined the husband’s present income capacity to be the maximum earnings that the husband may earn under SSA regulations without jeopardizing his disability benefits during the rehabilitative alimony term selected (2 years). The wife argued for a less restrictive measure, specifically the SSA standard that applies at the outset of disability payments. The Appeals Court agreed that the trial court was justified in crediting the standard prevailing at the time of his decision, during a period when the court is expecting the Husband to be working towards a return to full time work, as indicated by counseling orders and the 2-year alimony term. This is a relatively narrow ruling on very specific facts, but it is respectful of the trial court’s sound discretion.

The result and the husband’s needs. The Appeals Court reversed the Probate Court’s judgment because the judge’s over-counting of the wife’s income may have skewed the alimony sum result unfairly. They could have, and should have, let it rest there. We promised to stay positive and leave the matter of needs for another day, and that we shall do.

 

Post-divorce Tort Suit: Kelso v. Kelso A Concern for Divorce Mediators and Circular Reasoning?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently reversed a Superior Court judge’s dismissal of a lawsuit for dollar damages brought by an ex-husband against his former wife, after a fully litigated divorce judgment had issued, in Kelso v. Kelso. The technical details could only be interesting to lawyers, parsing claim and issue preclusion, and yielding the result that even though the divorce judge had heard may of the same facts that were alleged in the follow on lawsuit, and had awarded fees to the husband in light of those facts, that none of the legal claims now pressed were at issue in the divorce case. Hence, the appellate court concluded, the suit is not barred by law, and may proceed to trial.

The useful reminder of this case for us, as divorce mediators, is that when parties settle a case, they generally sign off on binding waivers for liability on all acts and omissions of each other, up to the date of the agreement, thus precluding a later suit for damages. Not so, when the parties try a case to a judge because in that context there are no waivers signed of any kind. Part of our charge as mediators is to run a process that leads to knowing agreements. The Kelso case poses a challenge to us: to make sure that clients (who may be harboring thoughts of a later tort suit) understand the effect of the general waivers in divorce agreements; i.e., there will be no suits for any past acts, that are not expressly reserved in the agreement. It is just one more good reason for our firm policy that requires clients to have legal counsel to review any agreements that we draft, at the end of a successful mediation.

On a more arcane level, we ask the following: if the tort cause of action is based on facts that all occurred before the divorce trial, and if the future tort plaintiff did not disclose the existence of a chose in action on his or her trial financial statement, is not any recovery that occurs in the later suit a marital asset that was not divided by the divorce court, and thus, divisible in a post judgment action? If the chose in action was not disclosed on the financial statement, was a fraud committed, yielding a potential recovery back to the tort-defendant?

Starting to sound circular?

 

Do Mediators and Court Reformers Enable Divorce? Jennifer Graham Might Think So

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

In her June 16, 2014 Boston Globe column "The divorce is worse than the marriage", Jennifer Graham praised a movement to curtail access to divorce in America, lamenting that “conservative” efforts to make divorce more difficult to obtain carry the political/cultural tag of being "fringe". She contends that the near universal right of divorce without cause has become politically correct and, thus, immune from clear-eyed political re-examination. Coupled with the damage that divorce inflicts on family life, social stability and children's well-being, she crudely terms divorce in the 21st century a "...sacred cow with poisonous teats...” To stem the tide, Ms. Graham suggests that perhaps pre-divorcing couples ought be required to endure a day in family court before filing is permitted. Her thesis suggests that watching the humiliation of others will slap couples back to sensibility, domestic tranquility, or at least resignation. Sort of a domestic Reefer Madness.

Tasteless analogy aside, Ms. Graham ‘s piece raises an ironic question: do people who dedicate their professional lives to making divorce less humiliating and costly, more humane and child-sensitive, cause more harm than good, by making the divorce experience less poisonous for families?

They come in many professions and roles. They are judges, probation officers and lawyers; psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers; teachers and researchers; accountants and financial consultants. They experiment, innovate, mediate and collaborate. They work to make courts less intimidating and more efficient; to assist unrepresented litigants; to create early intervention programs to spot and address child trauma; to educate parents and allied professionals; and to create, refine and staff out-of-court dispute resolutions processes that stress self-determination, self-respect and privacy, outward respect and action on mutual interests and solutions. They pursue different theories and practices. They succeed and fail. They are united in common cause: to reduce trauma, to lessen cost and to enhance children's outcomes.

As divorce mediators, do we work at cross-purposes to Ms. Graham’s defenders of marriage? If fear of humiliation is an effective way to deter divorce, do well-meaning efforts to make divorce less traumatic undermine the family? History brings us the state of marriage. As divorce mediators, we cannot stop it; but we can make it less traumatic. If that enables divorce, sobeit.

Incidentally, we agree with Ms. Graham that good can come from a real day in court, but for different reasons. Real life court watching can provide perspective to those considering marriage, and those considering divorce litigation alike. To the former, the seriousness of the decision to marry may be reinforced; and viewing the agony of others may drive would be litigants to out-of-court processes that are less costly and destructive. It can encourage a wavering litigation client to settle, to avoid the spectacle and uncertainty of trial and pursue out-of-court options.

 

Divorce Hotel: And Idea Whose Time Should Never Have Come

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

In the Spring 2014 newsletter The Professional Family Mediator, Pascal Comvalius authors “Divorce Hotel on TV: Exploitation of Pain?”. The story is about a service where married couples check into a luxury hotel married, and emerge from a long weekend – presto – divorced! This latest divorce-ploitation horror orginates in Europe but it is certain to find adherents here, too. Can you say “California”? And, it is coming to your flat screen as a Fox reality show in development. No joke.

Mr. Comvalius’ piece focuses on the reality TV version of this very poor idea, citing the perversity of snaring low-income yet telegenic clients with fee-waived weekends, in return for TV rights; and the ability of the poor children of these couples to later view archived episodes of their parents’ divorces. Both legitimate anxieties.

But what reality reality? Divorce hotel, without the cameras, strikes us as about the trivialization of the divorce itself. Divorce, if taken seriously, should be difficult. It is serious emotional and financial business. It can also be edifying, and emotionally life-saving if handled sensitively and well. Packaging an emotion-packed, financially intense transaction about the rest of life, into 48 luxury hours, can’t help but strip the participants of dignity, and as importantly, deny them the right of a knowing and considered decision about anything.

As divorce mediators, we are all for stripping the divorce process of it gratuitous stresses, wasted time and unnecessary costs. We provide a safe space for people to take it at their pace, with time to reflect, to consult and to plan. Divorce Hotel provides an antidote to the adversarial system that may work for some, but for most, we suspect, the medicine will be worse than the disease.

And, just imagine the promos on the next Fox Super Bowl….

 

If It Looks Like a Duck: Might Just as Well Get Married

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

It looks like the days of the cohabitation dividend may be numbered.

As anyone who cares, knows, M.G.L., chapter 208, section 49(d)(2) (eff. 3/1/12), directs that a probate and family court judge shall reduce, suspend or terminate alimony when the recipient is shown to have cohabited (as defined) for more than three months. And, the courts have been busy hearing requests to do exactly that regularly ever since.

A hot controversy over section 49(d)(2) is whether the enactment of the new law was itself a change of circumstances that would allow the court to act, in a case where the cohabitation pre-dated the new law, or if the alimony payor would only have access to relief if he or she could show a substantial change of financial circumstances since the court’s last judgment in the case, be it a divorce or a modification. Lawyers have debated this issue, including in this blog. (See, Maureen McBrien’s “Impact of Cohabitation Under Alimony Reform Act”, May 2, 2012; and David Lee’s “Counterpoint re: Alimony Reform and Cohabitation”, July 10, 2012.)

One judge recently decided the issue for the parties in Schwartz v. Schwartz, Middlesex Probate and Family Court Docket No. 03D 2715. Judge Edward F. Donnelly concluded that the new alimony statute was itself sufficient to justify alimony termination, and he did just that. Critically, the request under Section 49(d)(2) concerned an established cohabitation that Judge Donnelly saw as tantamount to marriage; and the relationship existed in that form before a previous modification judgment between the parties. Financial circumstances had not substantially changed since the last judgment; the common household circumstances had not changed either; and the only material change was enactment of the statute.

In his rationale, the judge observed that:

    It does not make sense that the husband is penalized because of a modification judgment which entered almost two years prior to the enactment of the alimony reform act. To require the husband to show a change of circumstances independent of the statute would render the language of G.L.208, [s.] 49(d), which requires that the court terminate, modify or suspend alimony upon cohabitation of the recipient spouse, meaningless in many cases. (Italics added.)

Certainly, a clear statement from a thoughtful judge; but one with which Ms. Schwartz deeply disagrees, one assumes. We expect that an appeal will follow on this delicate point of policy and statutory interpretation. Just one of many appellate cases to come from the alimony reform statute: the gift that keeps on giving.

 



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