Divorce Mediation Blog

The SJC Weighs in on Self-Adjusting Alimony Orders and Recipient “Need”: Young v. Young, Part 7

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

“Is ‘need’ a floor or a ceiling?”

Levine Dispute Resolution - Alimony

This question does not rise from historic alimony law, which has long rested on the axiom that alimony exists to meet a recipient’s “needs”, as measured by the marital living standard.

But, the Alimony Reform Act (ARA) (eff. 3.1.12) created the question with its M.G.L., ch. 208, § 53(b), stating that general term alimony

    …should generally not exceed the recipient’s need or 30 to 35 per cent of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes…” (Italics ours)

Since the lawmakers did not specify “the greater of” or “the lesser of”, judges and lawyers (and we, in earlier blog entries) have been left to speculate about whether “need” functions as a “floor” for support.

Since the appellate courts have now branded 53(b) as the range a “reasonable and lawful order”, this question was critical.

Where the payor’s income capacity is more than sufficient to meet the recipient’s “need”, should the latter enjoy “upside” alimony, even if that raises him or her above the marital station? Or, does the marital living standard cap the payor’s exposure?

We have consistently suspected the latter, and we have said so during many conciliation cases, since we did not believe that the legislature intended to upend the time-honored linkage to need. If anything, the ARA signaled a reining in of alimony, not its expansion. But given the vagaries our appellate courts, we braced for another surprise.

It didn’t happen.

The SJC spoke plainly:

    Here, the percentage-based award ran afoul of the act and therefore was an abuse of discretion not because of its variable nature but because it was intended to award the wife and amount of alimony that exceeds her need to maintain this lifestyle she enjoyed during the marriage. (Italics ours)

Now, we know for sure: “need”, in the law, is a ceiling.

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

Delivered by FeedBurner

other articles

recent posts


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