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How long can you collect alimony in Massachusetts?

Only a few decades ago, spousal support was referred to as "alimony" and was awarded to the wife in almost every divorce in Massachusetts. Times have changed, and alimony reforms have made some sweeping changes in the way that family court judges view alimony awards.

While being awarded alimony is no longer automatic, many spouses still qualify for these payments post-divorce. However, much depends on the duration of the marriage.

When a marriage lasted under six years, sometimes general term alimony can be awarded. Payments will usually be made for half of the total number of months of the marriage. For instance, a marriage of three years would entitle a former spouse to no more than 18 months of alimony, as long as other conditions are met.

If you were married for a decade or less, you may receive alimony payments for 60 percent of the total months you were wed. A 15-year marriage ups the ante to 70 percent, and the dissolution of 20-year marriages could result in alimony for up to 80 percent of the total of months.

The courts have the greatest latitude when determining spousal support for longstanding marriages of more than 20 years. Judges can make the duration of the award to be according to what they believe is fair.

When a former spouse can prove that he or she has a good reason for continuing to receive alimony, judges have the discretion to extend the payments. Your family law attorney will need to file with the courts a Complaint for Modification in such cases.

One possible reason for an extension might be that one spouse had a significant change in his or her life circumstances since the award for alimony was granted. Clear, convincing evidence of that will have to be presented to the court along with the filing.

Alimony is ended upon the death of either spouse, or when the recipient remarries or lives with another intimate partner for a minimum of three months. Also, when the spouse paying the alimony retires at 65, he or she may be permitted to cease or reduce payments accordingly.

If you wish to revisit the alimony issue, you must take it up with the civil courts.

Source: Mass.gov, "How Long Does Alimony Last?," accessed June 17, 2016

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