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Divorce Mediation Blog

The SJC Weighs in on Self-Adjusting Alimony Orders and Recipient “Need”: Young v. Young, Part 5

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

“What’s a judge to do?”

Levine Dispute Resolution - Alimony

In this entry, we consider a particular challenge that the trial judge will have on remand from the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) in Young v. Young, in grappling with her assessment of the wife’s “need” for alimony. The trial judge tried to quantify the wife’s “need” by the tangible costs thereof, a common means of doing so. But, it appears that the evidence thwarted the judge in doing so, as she bumped up against a too frequent phenomenon: incredible and incredibly rising expense claims on sequential Rule 401 financial statements during litigation.

During an 11-month span of the Young case, the wife’s claims of weekly expense rose a remarkable 44%, from $453,856 per year to $653,906!

We have seen this movie before, as lawyers, judge, special master and divorce arbitrator. While it is certainly challenging for parties to give dispositive expense information when Rule 410 requires a full statement within 45 days, or when a party files motions, just 10 days. Moreover, uncertainty about just what “need” means, can make presenting financial statement expense claims dicey for the preparer.

Yet, litigation strategy plays an undeniable role. And, strategy evolves..

As a result, the judge critically found that the wife lacked “…personal knowledge regarding her own expenses,” and that her financial statements were not “…an accurate reflection of her need.” The wife’s credibility shot, the judge avoided the quantification of need and, instead opted for an ill-fated percentage-of-income order.

So, where the judge simply disbelieved the wife, and where she did not, apparently, find other, more convincing evidence of the wife’s “need” in the trial record (presumably there was no expert “lifestyle” testimony, or none at least that the court found credible), how will she do so now, on remand?

Don’t bet against a Young v. Young II appellate case, when one of these spouses appeals the judgment after remand.

In our next entry, we will consider the role that financial complexity played in undermining the fate of the trial court decision.

 

Massachusetts Alimony: Watching the Pot - Part 1

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The number one preoccupation among Massachusetts divorce lawyers this year is trying to figure out how the appellate courts will construe many of the complex and interactive features of the year old comprehensive alimony “reform” statute. They hope that once this appellate pot boils, “guidance” will flow that will, in turn, give lawyers some sounder basis for predicting how trial judges’ discretion will be bounded and exercised in the future.

There are many uncertainties in the statutes, such as:

  1. How should judges apply their deviation authority to avoid alimony termination when very long marriages bump up against payors’ retirement age in an economic environment where people are working long past “retirement age”?
  2. Where judges perceive that new alimony cut-offs are unfair, how freely should they approach unequal property allocations as a form of compensation?
  3. Should judges “count” the time of temporary alimony orders towards calculated durational limits?
  4. Are judges expected to calculate alimony or child support first?

Will the cases come down in a trickle or a rush? Will the Supreme Judicial Court pre-empt the Appeals Court? Will the decisions be narrowly crafted, allowing for slow and thoughtful development; or will we see broader and a more rambling style of statutory construction? Will the “unreported”, or so-called “128” decisions of the Appeals Court have any coherence at all?

This important and fraught process will only start this year. Will it help or hurt? In our next two blog entries, we will think about this from two perspectives: that of a divorce mediator, and as a divorce arbitrator.


 



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