Divorce Mediation Blog

The SJC Weighs in on Self-Adjusting Alimony Orders and Recipient “Need”: Young v. Young, Part 9

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Levine Dispute Resolution - Alimony

“Fair balance of sacrifice?”

In Young v. Young, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) imported a concept that it had previously coined in the case of Pierce v. Pierce.

In the latter, the SJC reviewed (and upheld) a modification judgment of the Probate and Family Court in which the judge had reduced, but not terminated, the payor’s alimony obligation after he had voluntarily reduced his income, and his resulting ability to pay, finding that the reduction achieved a “fair balance of sacrifice” between the parties.

This modification concept followed an original divorce judgment which occurred without regard to any such construct. Rather, as a matter of law, the original alimony orders were necessarily based on the wife’s “need”, the husband’s ability to pay and what the divorce judge concluded to be “fair and reasonable”.

The Pierce court’s crafting of “fair balance of sacrifice” focused on the husband’s need to bear up under the circumstances of his own making, even if it felt to him as payor that he had paid quite enough alimony and he deemed the court’s modification judgment to be onerous in his current circumstances.

In the intervening years, the Alimony Reform Act (ARA) (eff. 3.1.12) introduced a formal range of maximum presumed alimony in M.G.L., ch. 208, §53(b) (since deemed the lawful and reasonable presumptive order by appellate case law), without any reference at all to the theme of “sacrifice”.

Rather, by comparing “need” to the maximum of 30-35% income differential, the legislature recognized that there is often not enough income in a case to sustain the marital station in two households, and formalized a longstanding practice of equitably sharing income, after presuming the tax leveraging of IRC §215 (which may or may not survive the 115the U.S. Congress). This is completely consistent with case law that establishes that a recipient has no guarantee of unchanged lifestyle, if the payor can’t provide it.

The equitable sharing of income can be a useful construct both in acknowledging that the parties can’t necessarily maintain the marital standard post-divorce; and in explaining why a payor will inevitably keep more of his or her income than the recipient will receive, because of the post-judgment efforts required to earn the money that funds spousal support.

But a “fair balance of sacrifice”? Where the vast bulk of divorce cases resolve with equal division of assets and debt, how can the same concept justify an unequal division of income, at the time of equitable distribution?

We are not advocating for the equal division of income, and it is not a result that will ever be required in our time. But was it helpful for the SJC to gratuitously introduce a standard that the legislature neither enunciated nor necessarily implied? Was it necessary support for its central outcome in Young? Will it now complicate cases with another subjective standard about which to fuss?

No, no and we’re afraid so.

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

Delivered by FeedBurner

other articles

recent posts


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