How to Avoid Alimony in Massachusetts?

You’re facing divorce. You’ve sacrificed blood, sweat, and tears to boost your family financially. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t work out. Now, you’re going to have to support your ex? The thought of having to sacrifice some of your pay regularly produces fear and panic in most. Am I going to be able to afford this? How am I going to pay my own bills?

Taking action and learning about how to manage your circumstances is a step in the right direction.

The only way to completely avoid the possibility of alimony in MA is to never get married in the first place. A prenuptial agreement also provides some protection and can substantially reduce your risk. However, if you’re married without a prenuptial agreement, alimony is a possibility.

Alimony Factors

Whether alimony is awarded depends on a number of factors, such as the length of the marriage, the disparity in income between the parties, the parties contributions to the marriage, how the assets are divided, the parties’ earning capacities, and their capacity to acquire future assets, among other factors.

What can you do to reduce your exposure to alimony? Focus on the factors above over which you have control.

Alimony Factors You Can Control

First, if your marriage is likely headed for divorce, file sooner rather than later. This is a difficult piece of advice to follow. It’s not easy to admit that your marriage isn’t going to work out. How do you know for sure? Well, you don’t. But you may want to objectively examine how much damage has been done and the prospects for repair: how long have you been disconnected, how deep are the relationship wounds, has either of you found another emotional attachment, have you tried counseling, do you really want to stay in this relationship indefinitely, etc.? If your objective analysis tells you this probably isn’t going to work and you’re facing a potential alimony obligation, it may be best to file. It’ll shorten the length of the marriage, which reduces your risk of alimony.

Offer more in assets. If your risk of alimony is significant based on the above factors, you can also offer the other party a greater portion of the assets – which you otherwise would’ve been awarded in the divorce. Perhaps an amount of cash would satisfy the party and help with the short-term financial difficulty. It should always be considered that alimony is tax-deductible while property transfers pursuant to divorce are not.

Investigate potential cohabitation. If the party asking for alimony is living with someone else, especially a significant other, your risk of alimony is lower. In 2012, the Alimony Reform Act of MA became law, and it includes a provision, mandating that judges consider cohabitation and its impact on alimony.

Best practices in divorce cases are very fact-specific. So especially on the issue of the timing of the filing and offering assets, it’s wise to seek an assessment from an experienced attorney before making a decision.

What Not To Do

Purposely reducing your income in preparation for divorce can get you in trouble by increasing the risk of the Court using “income attribution” to calculate alimony based on what you would have been earning at your previous level instead of what you actually earn.

There’s a substantial risk that your spouse’s attorney will uncover this. Discovery – or the exchange of information and documents – is the mechanism by which the other party can learn everything about your earnings history. If there’s been a recent significant drop in income, you have some explaining to do. And if you’re caught, you not only run the risk of paying alimony at a level you can’t afford, but you’ll ruin your credibility in the process, which may impact the judge’s decision on distribution of property. I’m not suggesting you go out and aggressively seek to increase your income in the midst of an alimony issue. But purposely reducing your income is a potential landmine. Don’t do it.

While you cannot completely avoid the issue of alimony without a solid prenuptial agreement, you can reduce your risk by focusing on what you can control: not unnecessarily extending the length of the marriage, using assets as a buyout, and investigating cohabitation are some available tools. However don’t purposely reduce income as that may prove a costly mistake.

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