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


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