What is Alimony in Massachusetts?

What is the Meaning of Alimony?

Alimony is money a judge orders one spouse to pay the other when a couple divorces. The money is to help support the spouse who gets it. The goal of alimony is to provide spousal support in order that they continue the lifestyle to which they are accustomed to after the divorce.

How Does Alimony Work?

Alimony is paid by one spouse who has the ability to pay to the other spouse in need of support for a period of time. Only people who are divorcing or are divorced can ask for and receive alimony. If alimony is ordered, it can be in the form of:

  • a lump-sum payment,
  • a property transfer, or
  • periodic monthly payments.

Periodic alimony awards are the most common and require one spouse to pay a certain amount to the other each month.

Is Alimony Available in an Uncontested Divorce in Massachusetts?

A spouse may be awarded alimony in a Massachusetts uncontested divorce. This is something you would have to work out with your spouse. As with all issues in an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse must agree. You’ll have to decide who gets alimony, how much will be paid and for how long. If you can’t agree on this or any other issue, you cannot get an uncontested divorce.

Do I Have to Pay Alimony?

Alimony is not ordered in every divorce case. It’s awarded on a case-by-case basis. It depends on the financial circumstances of the parties. In deciding whether to award alimony, a judge will look to several factors such as:

  • the length of the marriage
  • the age and health of each spouse
  • each spouse’s income
  • each spouse’s employment and employability (including whether additional training is necessary for a spouse to become employed)
  • each spouse’s economic and non-economic contributions to the marriage
  • the couple’s lifestyle and standard of living when married, and
  • any economic opportunities either spouse lost as a result of the marriage.

In addition, the court may consider any other factors it deems relevant.

There are 4 different types of alimony that may be awarded:

  • General term alimony. The periodic payment of support to a an ex-spouse who is economically dependent. The length of time general term alimony is paid depends in part on the length of the marriage. This type of alimony ends when either spouse dies, or if the receiving spouse gets remarried
  • Rehabilitative alimony. Support paid regularly to an ex-spouse who’s expected to be able to support themselves by a predicted time. This type of alimony will allow the divorced spouse time to “rehabilitate” him or herself and become completely self-supporting.
  • Reimbursement alimony. Support paid regularly or one time after a marriage of no more than 5 years to make up for costs that the ex-spouse paid to help the paying spouse, such as such as enabling the spouse to complete an education or job training. This type of alimony is to pay one spouse back for the time, money, or effort he or she put into the other spouse’s financial resources
  • Transitional alimony. Support paid regularly or one time after a marriage of no more than 5 years to help the spouse receiving the alimony to settle into a new lifestyle or location as a result of the divorce. It’s awarded when the economically disadvantaged spouse needs assistance to adjust to the economic consequences of a divorce.

How Much is Alimony?

There is no set formula to determine alimony payments. However, the amount of alimony should generally not exceed the recipient’s need or 30% to 35% of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes.

How Long Do You Have to Be Married to Get Alimony?

How long general term alimony lasts usually corresponds with how long the marriage lasted.

  • Marriages of 5 years or less — Alimony can’t be required for more than 50 percent of the time you were married. For example, if you were married for 60 months, you could be ordered to pay or receive alimony for up to 30 months.
  • Marriages of 10 years or less — Alimony can’t be required for more than 60 percent of the time you were married.
  • Marriages of 15 years or less — Alimony can’t be required for more than 70 percent of the time you were married.
  • Marriages of 20 years or less — Alimony can’t be required for more than 80 percent of the time you were married.
  • Marriages of more than 20 years — The court can award alimony for as long as the judge thinks is fair.

How Long Does Alimony Last?

Besides the time limits already mentioned, alimony normally stops if:

  • Either spouse dies
  • The spouse receiving the alimony gets re-married or lives with a partner for at least 3 months, or
  • The spouse paying the alimony reaches “full retirement age” (unless the judge orders something different).

 Can Alimony be Extended?

Judges can choose to continue alimony for a longer period of time if there’s a good reason. If alimony is supposed to end, but you feel you need to receive alimony for longer, you can file a Complaint for Modification. The court may give you an extension if you have:

  • A material change of circumstances after your alimony was decided, and
  • The reasons for the extension that are supported by clear and convincing evidence.

What Happens if You Can’t Pay Alimony?

In order for you to change the amount of alimony you are paying, you must first show that there has been a “material change in circumstances”. There are many changes that can effect your ability to pay alimony such as:

  • Loss of a job,
  • Illness,
  • A decrease in pay.

Refusing to pay alimony is different than being unable to pay. Alimony is a court order that is enforceable unless it is modified. If you willfully refuse to pay, you can be held in contempt. That means you could be fined or jailed for a short period or until it is paid.


Alimony is money paid by one spouse to another in a divorce. There are different types of alimony, each with a different purpose. But the overall idea is to keep the receiving spouse in a lifestyle similar to when they were married. The length of time alimony is paid is largely based on the length of the marriage. The longer you were married, the longer alimony will be available. Generally, alimony ends after a certain length of time. If you want to change an alimony order, you must first show that there has been a substantial change in circumstances. If you refuse to pay alimony, you could end up in jail.

The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.