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Figuring out spousal support in Massachusetts

The issue of spousal support can play a large and contentious role in the divorce process. Many people, when thinking of alimony, jump straight to the most extreme examples: the penniless spouse forced to pay alimony to a lazy ex, or, conversely, the homemaker left with nothing after years of marriage. Learning more about how support typically works in Massachusetts can help you get a more down-to-earth picture of what to expect.

Massachusetts does have a fairly specific set of rules for determining amounts and duration for support payments. However, the court still has a lot of leeway in applying the rules; it may also choose to deviate from them if it determines that doing so would be fairer.

Duration

The law makes duration of support payments dependent directly on how long you were married. If your marriage lasted no more than five years, you can receive support for up to half of the time the marriage lasted; if it lasted five to 10 years, you may receive payments for as much as 60 percent of the marriage's duration. If your marriage lasted from 10 to 15 years, maximum duration would be 70 percent of that time, and 80 percent if you were married 15 to 20 years. These are maximums, so a court can certainly order a shorter duration based on other relevant factors. If your marriage lasted over 20 years, the court may order indefinite alimony if it so chooses. 

Deciding amount and type of support

Amount calculations tend to feature a higher degree of complexity. Typically, a judge considers your marriage's length, the respective contributions you and your spouse made to the marriage, and both of your current sources of income and future earning potential, as well as the marital lifestyle. Courts may also award rehabilitative alimony if you need to receive support to get training or education in order to qualify for sustainable employment. In addition, courts look at the paying spouse's ability to pay. Generally, alimony payments should not exceed need or 30-35 percent of the discrepancy between the higher and lower earning spouses' incomes.

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