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Understanding alimony in Massachusetts

When couples divorce, many questions arise related to finances and money, especially in situations involving lengthy marriages or marriages where one spouse's willingness to stay home and out of the workforce enabled the other spouse to pursue a career. Depending on the details of each specific case, a divorce can devastate a former spouse financially, leaving him or her not only with limited to no money but also limited abilities to earn a gainful living. This is why alimony exists.

In Massachusetts, alimony is awarded by a judge during divorce proceedings, but the award of alimony is not automatic. Essentially, alimony is money paid by one former spouse to the other former spouse for the receiving spouse's benefit. In Massachusetts, there are four different kinds of alimony, which are distinguished by the marriages to which they apply, the duration of the alimony, what can terminate alimony payment and whether alimony can be modified.

Even though a judge makes the decision as to whether or not to award alimony, the judge must still follow some basic guidelines in making that decision. First of all, alimony can only be awarded if one spouse needs the support and the other spouse has the financial ability to pay the alimony. Alimony can be paid in one lump sum or in payments made over time. Indefinite alimony is only awarded for lengthy marriages that lasted more than 20 years. For marriages of shorter duration, the judge will decide how long an alimony award should last.

The four types of alimony are general term, rehabilitative, reimbursement and transitional. Rehabilitative, reimbursement, and transitional alimony are all generally shorter term. Rehabilitative alimony serves the purpose of providing financial assistance to a former spouse until he or she is capable of self-support. Reimbursement alimony compensates the former spouse for his or her former contributions to the paying spouse's financial stability and success. Transitional alimony is intended to provide a bridge from married life to single life, enabling the recipient spouse to adjust to the differences of a single lifestyle. In contrast to these, general term alimony is awarded to spouses who are economically dependent on the paying spouse regardless of the specific reason.

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