Long has there been a push for more consistent and predictable
alimony awards in Massachusetts. Contrary to the sentiments
expressed by The Boston Globe's Adrian Walker's "Alimony
Agony" column published last November, family law practitioners
have been and remain interested in adding predictability to the
allocation of alimony payments. And, a point that Walker and others
who have written on this topic have not made is that alimony does
not only bear a burden on men, as many women are required to
complement their ex-spouse's income.
Since the early 1990s, the MBA's Family Law Section has closely
monitored the topic, filing a series of proposed legislation to
improve the existing alimony laws. Now, the MBA has a seat at the
table as this complex topic is addressed at the legislative
More recently, the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Boston
Bar Association convened an alimony task force to better formalize
the attorney voice on the issue. David Lee and I chair the task
force that has wrestled with several of the major issues
surrounding the current alimony laws, including the issue of
durational limits. A comprehensive report issued by the joint task
force, endorsed by the MBA's House of Delegates, offers
recommendations on standards for reasonable sums and durational
terms in cases that do not involve dependent children.
Under the keen leadership of Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. Eugene
O'Flaherty, the Joint Committee on the Judiciary has established a
legislative task force with the charge of determining how best to
reform Massachusetts alimony laws. Like the many other individuals
serving on this legislative group, the MBA will do its part in
relaying the critical need to set alimony standards for the sake of
the many families who may need alimony or who may be affected by
alimony judgments. I look forward to representing the MBA
throughout the group's important discussions led by Sen. Gale
Candaras and Rep. John V. Fernandes.
Often a significant obstacle to settling divorce cases, alimony
awards are ripe for public and legislative scrutiny. Alimony
becomes a difficult issue to resolve without state guidelines.
There is a need to balance suggested guidelines with retaining
judicial discretion given each case's particular set of facts.
Emotions run high in family law cases and when the element of
alimony is involved, cases become that much more complex.
The Supreme Judicial Court's recent decision in Pierce v.
Pierce, in my view, adds another layer of complexity. This
decision will play into the negative perceptions of alimony
payments, despite their necessary role in some cases to fairly
preserve the financial livelihood of spouses despite a broken
After practicing family law for more than 25 years, I have seen
a trend away from just male litigants paying alimony. As women
continue to earn more competitive salaries, as more families name
the mother its bread winner, and as same-sex couples divorce, women
paying alimony will become increasingly more common.
Like many of my family law colleagues, I am excited to see this
issue addressed at the level is warrants. Between what the MBA and
BBA are doing at the bar level and what Sen. Creem and Rep.
O'Flaherty have recently taken on at the legislative level, the
progress is encouraging. As a result, all parties look forward to
more predictable, consistent expectations for alimony settlements,
orders and judgments.
Denise Squillante is the president-elect of the
Massachusetts Bar Association. She practices law in southeastern