Posted by Attorney Bruce Watson
One of the most common questions we hear when speaking with our clients going through a divorce is about spousal support. In Massachusetts Spousal support is often called alimony, and it is a word that many people hear but don’t quite understand. When you hear about divorces involving famous people, most often there are large amounts of money named. You may hear about alimony payments in the millions when a movie star divorces, or in cases of people who are very rich. But what if you or your spouse don’t earn more than six figures? Does alimony still come into play? The answer is simply that it could. Alimony is based on the financial situation of each spouse.
In Massachusetts, alimony can be awarded to either spouse, and is gender neutral. The judge bases the decision on several factors such as –
• How long the marriage lasted
• The age and health of each spouse
• The income of each spouse
• Employability or employment of each spouse
• Any training required for one spouse to find employment
• The contribution of each spouse to the marriage
• The standard of living during the marriage
• Any lost opportunity of a spouse during marriage
While there is no set formula for determining spousal support, there are laws in Massachusetts that require that spousal support not exceed the recipient’s need or up to 35% of the difference between the income earned by each spouse. The laws do allow for exceptional cases, where the judge can make alternative settlements.
Another factor that spousal support can be based on is child support. If the divorce involves child support being paid, the child support will be paid before any spousal support can be considered. While one spouse can receive both child support and spousal support, the amount of child support paid will be deducted from the paying spouse’s income. In some cases this will reduce the income to a level where spousal support is not awarded.
While child support and spousal support are both money paid to the custodial parent, they are different in terms of taxes. Spousal support is deductible while child support is not. Also, spousal support is considered taxable income, while child support is not. So, payment of spousal support can affect each spouse’s taxes differently than child support. Payment of spousal support is determined for a period of time, based on the length of time married. It usually does not continue on indefinitely. If spousal support is not paid, a wage garnishment can be put in place. Spousal support owed cannot be discharged by bankruptcy as debt.
When filing for divorce, if you feel that you are eligible for spousal support, you can discuss it with your attorney to determine if it’s possibility. The court will make the final determination.