Can My Ex Get Alimony From Me After Child Support in Massachusetts?

You’ve contributed financially for years to support your children. Now, they’re all grown up now and it seems your support will stop. Or will it? What if your ex takes you to court for alimony when your child support ends? Can that happen in MA?

Alimony and child support are separate but related issues. And yes, alimony can begin when child support ends.

Child support is a payment from one parent to the other while the child is unemancipated. The general rule is if the child is still dependent on a parent, child support can continue to age 21. If the child is enrolled in undergraduate schooling and still dependent on a parent, it can continue to age 23.

Alimony, on the other hand, is spousal support: payments made from the financially stronger spouse to the lower earner—usually over a period of time, but sometimes in a lump sum payment. Alimony is more common in long-term marriages in which there’s a significant difference in the parties’ earnings. However, it can also be ordered in shorter marriage under certain circumstances.

First, whether alimony can begin after child support ends depends on the terms of the divorce agreement. By default, alimony remains modifiable after divorce. However, the parties may agree to close it out the issue of alimony permanently. If the parties contract to close it out permanently, it’s not modifiable, and therefore cannot begin after child support ends.

However, if the issue of alimony remains open, your ex can file a complaint for modification to ask for alimony payments to begin upon emancipation of the children.

For example, suppose you were in a long-term marriage, you earn significantly more than your spouse, and you have children that are older—in college, for example. Also suppose further that you are below social security retirement age, which is now typically 67: the general cutoff age for alimony. Once your children are emancipated, your spouse can file a complaint to request alimony.

In determining whether to order alimony, the court will consider a number of factors, including the length of marriage, the parties’ marital lifestyle, their earnings, earnings potential, assets, and other factors. The court would consider how the parties’ lifestyle as a couple. However, the court will also carefully assess the parties’ current financial circumstances, including your ability to pay alimony and your ex’s financial needs.

Facing a potential alimony obligation can be difficult. And it can be especially frustrating coming on the heels of your wrapping up a significant financial obligation like child support. You see the light at the end of the financial tunnel. And the threat of another financial order is scary.

While there’s nothing you can do to prevent your ex from filing a complaint for modification, it helps to be prepared if you think one is in the pipeline. If you have any questions about alimony orders starting after child support or any other family law questions, feel free to contact us.

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