Retroactive application of new alimony rules

House 740, a bill before the Judiciary Committee, would reopen for dispute financial arrangements in many older divorces. Proponents of House 740 seek to apply the legislature’s 2011 Alimony Reform to end or reduce their alimony payments. Opponents rely on those payments. I’ve heard from many on both sides of the question.

The specific policy issue raised by House 740 is whether the retirement and cohabitation provisions of 2011 Alimony Reform should apply retroactively. The 2011 Alimony Reform did include language speaking to the question of retroactivity and that language has been the subject of litigation. In Chin vs. Merriot, 470 Mass 527 (2015), the Supreme Judicial Court concluded that the language applies the retirement and cohabitation provisions only prospectively.  The Court reaffirmed this conclusion in Doktor v Doktor, 470 Mass 547 (2015).  See also Rodman v. Rodman, 470 Mass 539 (2015).

House 740 proposes to revise the transition language of the 2011 Alimony Reform so that the retirement and cohabitation provisions would apply retroactively (to divorces entered before the effective date of the act, March 1, 2012).  Alimony payors would then be able to file for modifications and have them considered under the new rules.

The previous alimony reform in 1974 jettisoned traditional law which assumed men should hold the property in the marriage and defined the following balanced framework for dividing property and setting alimony payments:

In determining the amount of alimony, if any, to be paid, or in fixing the nature and value of the property, if any, to be so assigned, the court . . . shall consider the length of the marriage, the conduct of the parties during the marriage, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties and the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income.

As to cohabitation under the 1974 law, in Gottsegen v Gottesegen, 397 Mass 617 (1986) the Supreme Judicial Court explained:

A divorced spouse has no right to exercise control over a former spouse’s life, and a court may not attempt to create such a right through the alimony provisions of a divorce judgment.  . . .  Nor may a judge, in formulating the divorce judgment, assume that cohabitation . . . would have any effect on the recipient spouse’s economic circumstances and the need for alimony. . . . [But] if the supporting spouse shows that, as a result of cohabitation, the recipient spouse’s economic circumstances have materially changed, then the court may alter or eliminate alimony. However, a judge may not modify a judgment solely on the basis of a finding of cohabitation.

As to retirement under the 1974 law, in Pierce v. Pierce, 455 Mass 286 (2009), the Supreme Judicial Court explained that:

Every supporting spouse is permitted to retire, and an alimony judgment based on the supporting spouse’s earned income eventually will need to be reduced or terminated to reflect the supporting spouse’s diminished actual income after retirement. The supporting spouse, however, is not entitled unilaterally to retire regardless of the financial hardship such retirement may cause the recipient spouse. In appropriate circumstances,  . . .  the supporting spouse, even after reaching a customary retirement age, in the sound discretion of the probate judge, may be expected temporarily to postpone retirement or to find part-time work to help the recipient spouse weather difficult financial circumstances.

The 2011 reforms preserve many of the 1974 factors in setting alimony and also allow substantial flexibility.  However, they provide a much more specific framework of presumptions for alimony payments:

  • They define several different kinds of alimony, some reflecting special circumstances — “rehabilitative”, “reimbursement” and “transitional” alimony — in addition to “general term” alimony for the economically dependent spouse.
  • They tilt the factors in setting alimony to emphasize the employability of both spouses “through reasonable diligence and additional training” and  define quantitative rules for setting the level of general term alimony.
  • They set alimony duration limits in divorces ending marriages less than 20 years of length — requiring that general term alimony payments to an economically dependent spouse should end after a finite period, generally computed as a percentage of the length of the marriage.
  • They require that general term alimony payments should end or be reduced if the recipient spouse cohabits with another person with another for over 3 months.
  • They require that general term alimony payments should end upon the payor reaching full retirement age.  They specifically discourage the kind of reasoning in Pierce v. Pierce, where the court effectively required the payor to postpone retirement so as to continue contributing to the support of the recipient spouse.  They require that in general, “the payor’s ability to work beyond the full retirement age shall not be a reason to extend alimony.”

The purposes of the 2011 reforms were to set clearer guidelines to reduce disputes and to disfavor long term economic dependency.  The reforms were broadly supported and I voted for them.

While the policies in the reforms are generally sound, the question of whether they should be applied retroactively is much harder. Applying the new 2011 rules for retirement and cohabitation retroactively would unsettle an unknown number divorces and lead to an unknown amount of additional litigation.  It would impose litigation costs  on  an unknown number of recipient spouses who would be forced to hire lawyers and defend their settled alimony awards.

It would result in an unknown number of orders being modified.  That number might be small in proportion to the amount of additional litigation — while the new rules add valuable clarity and shift presumptions, they will not necessarily lead to different results.

Finally, litigation costs aside and whether or not new outcomes would result, we should pass retroactive laws only with great caution.  As Justice Kennedy commented in a unanimous opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court,

Retroactive legislation has always been looked upon with disfavor  .  .  .  [citations omitted].

The terms of a divorce — which include not only alimony, but a division of assets, child care and other matters — are woven together through bargaining and/or by judicial rulings to reflect a complex web of circumstances.  Once the terms are set, the parties build their new lives around those terms.   The parties both understand that the circumstances may change and that the terms may be subject to judicial modification as a result.  However, they have expectations about the rules that will be applied in the changed circumstances.  Those expectations shape the original terms.  There is an intrinsic risk of unfairness in changing the rules.

For these reasons, I cannot support House 740 and have referred it for further study, making it unlikely to be enacted in the current legislative session.

Response to comments, February 17, 2018

Thanks to all who have taken the time to comment.

These comments are consistent with the testimony from the group of alimony payors who appeared at the hearing on the bill, which I did and do take very seriously.

I am respectful of these comments and that testimony. I do not doubt that, in some instances, the courts have reached conclusions which are harsh or unfair.

The question presented by the legislation before us is whether we should reopen many of the older alimony cases involving long-term marriages in the hope of justly altering some percentage of them. My conclusion, reflected in this post, is that, on balance, the possible harms from that outweigh the possible benefits on a systemic level.

I recognize that that conclusion may leave some people without adequate recourse and I regret that. Legislation always involves the setting of rules and rules are never perfect.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

85 replies on “Retroactive application of new alimony rules”

  1. Dear Senator,

    I understand and respect that you do not support House 740. There will be cases that fall on both sides of this debate, those that are unfair to the payer and those situations where the recipient is taking advantage of the alimony for life rulings.

    Personally, while I can afford to pay the alimony and am soon to retire, my ex is now very well financially secure. She has a wonderful job, making a six figure salary, all three children are independent (ages 25-31), her home is fully paid off, no debt, a new car every few years, wonderful vacations multiple times per year, etc. She has a boyfriend of over 6 years that she refuses to marry so that she doesn’t lose the alimony payment.

    My divorce was finalized over 15 years ago. I had no issue with paying the alimony during the period of transition and I went above and beyond the divorce agreement by paying well over 90% of the three children’s private (2) and public college tuition costs, when my obligation was 50%.

    My ex is financially stable and I find it totally unfair to have to pay alimony for the rest of my life.

    The Alimony Reform Act would provide me the basis to request a modification that is fair and reasonable. I am simply looking for fairness.

    Your position that this bill is “chaff” is concerning to me. It is not “chaff” to me. It is real money!!!

    This is why I request that you allow this bill to proceed to a vote.

    How do individual’s such as myself and other well intentioned divorced payee’s find a resolution?



    1. I disagree sir.As a disabled and was ill( possibly due to multiple abuses, and finaccially lied to when i needed and 3 chikdren( high school and beginning college age) medical. What little i made helped the children ar least get dental care at UIDental school)And ex had offers of other jobs within UI when ( they felt he wasnt a fit anyomore in dance dept- he kept me from knowing why but i can surmiss knowing his perp personality) Anyway, i literally as a person with neural tumors etc rolled over in divorce( bad female lawyer) even alimony was under , because of bad lawyers, court and judge( ex had even gotten away with ‘money laudering’ so to speak.) he didnt even have actual bankstatements(3 banks at least ) no SS paperwork, altered Tax ( which i told my lawyer) and more. I was even told that i didn’t have any part of business i helped him start.etc.To the present he has been delinquent since 2011( divirce Nov 2010) and he only had yo pay 400 based on his lies.( found out in 2014, in 2013, they let him take me to court to try and get alimony dropped, but with advocates the judge didnt like helped me confront him.There was game playing and with a lawyer who actually found more thsn my divorce lawyer who wouldnt appeal decision and helped leave me a mess.Needless to say i was denied continuence later in year( my new lawyer had committment elsewhere, she thought it would be easy to rectify. Later with her and my paperwork, ex was fned for the court appointed attorney he got that he didnt really qialify for .By then i was going through help from medicare to get operations on my maladies. I wont go into detail how things not being done properly in divorce also almost cost me my life. Ive had alot of damage to house lately. It not greatly livable. – not just fir a disabled person. Flooding etc. I thpught i had a policy got out ehen my youngest son was a baby, ex stopped psying on it without my knowledge. I was going to borrow to rebuild my kutchen which the water heater and furnavs sit under in the basement and were alsi distroyed I am so distraught and depressed to think he reallu was Educated psychopath.A Christian man who used me my parents and msny more. Thr best thing now is the lawyer he stiffed from our first separation is now a judge.Karma everyone told me woukd get him. I pray for someone to finally listen and make him pay .but i want the bsvk chikd support now and everything he finacially denied me which cists me my health and well being. We need seriuos laws concerning this kind of thing and playing games in court is not mature

  2. If I understand it correctly I think I’m in agreement with your choice. I went off on a tear the past few years, probably looking like a lunatic, advocating against the probate courts, and the “divorce industry”. In my dreams and many postings my goal was to convince someone to pursue a civil rights lawsuit against “the industry” to force reform and compensate its many victims over the past decades, and that definitely includes the children of divorce. The truth is almost no divorces in the Commonwealth actually work out and almost everyone ends up with nothing and almost all of the children suffer needlessly and are permanently driven backwards on the economic scale. The system flat out doesn’t work and the only people who benefit from it are the provider class, those who make a living at it. The victims just limp away from it and show up later on Mass health maybe or in a shelter or in subsidized housing or disadvantaged educationally living quiet lives of desperation. Just do the math, do a thought experiment, don’t call it divorce but take any group of people and subject them to the abuse an illogic that people going through divorce are subject to (even the supposed “bad cop” in the mix). They all end up with nothing unless they are very lucky or they started out with a whole lot. It’s a terrible system with almost universally bad outcomes. At the very least, until a civilized approach is found, you should strike the “best interest of the child” language from the laws because that is not the intention and it’s rarely the outcome either.

  3. Opening up previously settled cases to further litigation is NOT a reasonable reason to prevent legislation that is based on common sense and decency. Modifying previous (modifiable) agreements was clearly the impact of the original bill you voted for as, to prevent any court overload, it staged when modifications could be filed. In fact, the clarity this bill would provide would prevent most litigation and create a basis for fair out-of-court settlements. Candidly, you should remove that argument as a reason for your objection and see if it still holds water.

    Further, your characterization of the SJC decision doesn’t reflect that the original bill clearly intended to make the cohabitation and retirement provisions retroactive and it was only poor wording in the bill that allowed for the appeals court’s reversal of the bill’s obvious intent. Otherwise, there would be no need for this new bill.

    You have described a system where the courts can prevent a person who has reached normal retirement age from retiring in order to support an ex-spouse. That is fundamentally absurd & an intrusion on the individual’s liberty.

    Further, we now live with TWO standards for ending alimony upon cohabitation: one for marriages preceding the original reform law and one for those after. That is nonsensical. If alimony is to end upon remarriage, common sense dictates it also must end upon cohabitation. Otherwise, the law simply encourages alimony recipients to never remarry! That change made sense to marriages after the new law and it most certainly makes the same common sense to marriage prior to the new law.

    Blocking this bill from committee consideration simply furthers dependency and leaves court-precedent founded in the 1950’s as the archaic rule of the land.

    Worse, blocking this bill and prolonging such unfair alimony rules creates bitterness amongst the divorced couples and negatively impacts all the families and individuals involved.

  4. Senator this bill needs to be retroactive. This bill should have been in play years ago as there should never have been lifetime alimony. Why should anybody have to pay anybody else for the rest of their life because they decided to get married. My alimony payment is my most expensive bill after my mortgage. My ex does not work because she gets alimony, meanwhile if I do not work I go to jail. There is no law to support a child once they turn 18 who has no experience or skills, but yet there is a law that states I have to make a monthly payment to an adult who is most likely older and more experienced than an 18 year for many many years. There should be strong and hard limits on alimony. Frankly it should be no longer than 5 years.

  5. Contrary to what is written above, I had no control over my divorce judgment and . A judge handed it down without taking into account that my wife held a PhD and had a job similar to mine earning slightly less than I. Subsequently, she took a job outside of the US as an administrator of a large international school. Despite that, I was still required to pay alimony that had been based on her earnings when we divorced. She is now semi-retired and living partially on my alimony and savings she amassed while working abroad, including a pension from another country – yet I can not retire and am required to continue working. I find this grossly unfair. I find the opposite than does Will Brownsberger – by not changing the law I am now subjected to the intrinsic unfairness of the current law. I will do whatever is in my earthly power to vote out of office any of the lawmakers, like Will Brownsberger, who are in the sway of divorce lawyers and others who are feeding off the misery of others.

    1. The divorce industry is a lot like the NRA, everyone knows that what it does is wrong and everyone knows that the outcomes are horrific, but its treachery is allowed to go on forever it seems due to a combination of willful ignorance by the population and active lobbying by commercial special interest groups, many members of which are also in the government. It’s probably worse actually than the NRA because it’s aided by schadenfreude (I don’t think anyone laughs when someone gets picked off by an AR15 like they do when the divorce industry ruins a life), and it also a deep, long and special place in history that someday will come to light when historians drill into it. Like the NRA it’s relatively pointless to fight it because it has so much power, my condolences.

  6. I know that most divorce cases and complaints do not involve litigating in the courts. Safe to say, we can get a number on how many divorces occur as a result of litigation. It is very small. Most people use the law to settle cases. Legal costs are then very small. Is this something new to you?

    Also, you don’t accurately state what the 2011 law, nor what the House Bill was trying to do. I know from experience that a court will dismiss any filing to modify a divorce agreement if there is not a cause deemed by the courts to be relevant. It is the first question and is what the defendant might at first use to get the case dismissed.

    What the law does is to make retirement a legitimate reason to ask the court to consider a changed circumstance. That does not mean alimony will end. Making it seem like the 2017 bill was ending alimony at retirement age is distorting the truth.

    Yes, be careful about retroactively applying legislation. For this bill, I don’t see that it is complex. Everyone reaches an age where they cannot produce the same kind of income. Getting old applies to everyone. Whether they were divorced before or after the 2011 alimony law does not change this.

    For my case, my X went back to college, became an RN and earns almost as much as I do. We split our assets 50/50 and will both collect social security at the dollar amount. Just because my divorce was before 2011 I have to pay until one of us dies, but someone divorced a later year has the chance to have the provisions revisited? Ridiculous.

    Clearly the date of the law is not relevant and the 2011 law should apply to everyone.

    And cohabiting? The one receiving alimony is simply skirting the law that requires alimony to end upon marriage. But as it is, people have to keep paying until you release the bill from your committee to allow a debate and vote to occur.You don’t need the support the bill. You just need to recognize that the legislative process must reach a conclusion.

    I suggest you respect all the effort that went into the 2011 legislation which included a joint task force, rather than Monday Morning Quarterbacking this now. You don’t have to require the wheel to be re-invented.

    Frankly, I am puzzled about your unwillingness to advance this bill. It has to be one of the more straight forward no-brainer bills of the year.

  7. First of all, I feel the need to point out that I will not personally financially benefit in any way from H 740 becoming law. However, I feel the need to speak out against legislative tactics that I believe are unfair to the many MA constituents who unfairly and unjustly suffer from this retroactive problem (which I fortunately do not).

    The intention of the 2011 Alimony Reform Law was to make it retroactive for divorces prior to 2012, but the wording of this portion of the law was not done well, which created enough ambiguity that leads to the current problems regarding divorces that pre-dated this law. If legislators agreed that the previous alimony system was unfair and unjust and decided to change it through the 2011 Alimony Reform Law, it doesn’t make much sense for it to be unfair and unjust for divorces after 2012 but perfectly fair for divorces prior to 2012. This seems absurd.

    The 2011 Alimony Reform bill became law with UNANIMOUS support in both MA’s House and Senate. The support for these alimony reforms was common sense and widespread to be point of being nearly universal by the time of passage.

    Any issue that has such widespread support deserves to be put up for a full vote, and not effectively blocked by any one committee, as happened with this bill. This legislative tactic is not fair to the many MA constituents whose lives are dramatically and negatively impacted by this issue. The voice of all constituents should be heard on this issue rather than just the voice of the politicians who happen to be on the committee which can block this bill’s passage into law.

    Please bring this bill to a full vote as soon as possible. If it fails in the full vote, then so be it, as at least all constituent voices would be represented in the vote. However, it seems clear that it will likely pass into law with an overwhelming majority, which seems to be exactly why the bill is being blocked by committee–to prevent an otherwise inevitable/very likely passage into law. Blocking this bill in committee is an injustice and rebuke to the good constituents of MA.


  8. Dear Senator Brownsberger,
    What I find hard to accept is that you would not let the bill go up for a vote.
    Do others in yours & similar positions not have any value by not getting an opportunity to cast there own vote ? Many others fell a need to pass H740…Should one person be able to stop the opportunity of many who feel the need to vote on this important legislation ?
    How can you see any fairness in lifetime sentences of Alimony.
    Yes there are arguments on both sides as there always will be. However there are many more people on the favorable side of this bill. If this bill H740 was not a equatable and fair solution it would have gone away a long time ago..
    H740 does not automatically end Alimony as many probably think. It motivates both parties to settle rather than have a judgement made by a stranger…
    Your reference to “Chaff” is disheartening at best… (To separate what is useful or valuable from what is worthless)…Is our cause, H740 WORTHLESS ?
    I do hope you would reconsider and allow H740 up for a vote and see where the chips fall………..
    Bill Horrigan

  9. Senator, I appreciate seeing your views here, respectfully I disagree with them and I think your conclusions are flawed. A few points for you to consider.

    1. I believe that everyone involved in the 2011 bill believed that the entire legislation was designed to be applied retroactively. It was only the court that interpreted poor drafting in the bill that led us to this current debacle. The spirit of the bill and retroactive application were clearly understood and intended. I don’t believe you are being entirely genuine on this point in your argument.

    2. Along the same theme, you use arguments in your position that seem flawed logically about the application of retroactive laws. You reference a Supreme Court statement that retroactive laws are viewed dimly. Yet you omit (I think) the fact that the durational limits in the 2011 law are applied retroactively per the current law and the courts interpretation. Early in your memo you reference your support of the prior bill. You then go on to conclude that you can’t support the current bill because the retroactive application is unfair to alimony recipients who bargained under the prior law. In plain English, you support the retroactive application of durational limits but not the retroactive application of retirement or cohabitation clauses. Did you really see a nuance in the clauses that meant retroactive was good for durational limits and not for retirement? No recipient expected a durational limit when they bargained under the prior law.

    3. From a practical standpoint, I wonder what your personal experience is with alimony and divorce in the Commonwealth. The reality is that the cohabitation rule is virtually impossible to apply when the recipient behaves disingenuously, either in prospective or retroactive divorces. Cohabitating recipients maintain separate residences, periodically break up, or otherwise put up a facade of separation in order to maintain alimony. Cohabitation is virtually impossible to prove, and I know people on both sides of this charade, the payor and the recipient. Likewise the retirement concept is equally troubling. Most payors of alimony are lower middle class to middle class, and many alimony payments come from low to low / mid level paying jobs. The income earned and distributed by the payor could be replaced by work from the recipient. In addition, most recipients of alimony post retirement age are no longer responsible for children. So why should one party be allowed to retire and collect and one party not allowed to retire and pay. In practice that is what often happens. And judges rarely allow a payor to retire because they find nothing in the law that spells out that alimony ends. Importantly the 2011 bill grants judges the right to deviate from the law for extenuating circumstances; for example perhaps the recipient can’t work or does take care of adult children, which may make the continued receipt of alimony necessary and genuine.

    In conclusion, while I don’t take lightly the views of a Supreme Court justice, I think that the overwhelming evidence of divorce and alimony historically in the commonwealth supported a law change that was to be applied retroactively in order to relieve injustice. I think that the near unanimous vote approving the bill and the level of earnest debate and involvement from reputable stakeholders on the issue substantiate that the new law needed to be applied retroactively and was considered appropriately and with open eyes. Only the court deviated from this path due to an unfortunate reading of arguable poor drafting in the bill.

  10. Senator Brownsberger,

    Yes, pre 2011 divorce agreements are settled in most respects but one. That being when can the payments reasonably come to an end? It is undefined.

    Alimony for Life has always been an unreasonable judgement.

    Litigation costs are a reality in any modifiable divorce and will be minimized by this bill’s clearer expectations from legislators to the courts. Or by out of court mediation.

    Retirement age is a reality for everyone and should bring payments to an end. A judge can still deviate when circumstances warrant.

    This bill is most certainly not “chaff” as you put it.

  11. Except, there was an intrinsic unfairness in the original Alimony and Divorce laws.

    That is the case with many laws that, over time, are shown to be in need of correction.

    Certainly, you don’t today embrace the laws of the 1800’s such as slavery or for that matter even the laws of the 1950’s where civil-rights were almost non-existent or the laws of even 5 years ago when same-sex marriage was illegal in the Commonwealth. Those laws were found, over time, to be intrinsically unfair. Leadership within our form of Government allowed for a vote from all Senators and Representatives who represent the people of this great State. Those processes changed the laws to make for a better Massachusetts. That is our process of government and this Bill should be allowed to either live or die after a spirited debate and a vote by all representation.

    You, personally, cannot support H 740 and I respect your point of view and your right and responsibility to vote as you see fit. But the Commonwealth as a whole should be allowed to determine if it is time for correcting any intrinsically unfair law. That isn’t something for any 1 official to determine. My elected official and all peoples within the Commonwealth deserve to have our voices heard and our elected officials weighing in with no less import than your own vote.

    You can certainly vote your mind but my elected official and all those in the House and Senate should be allowed to vote as they see fit with no less heart, spirit and commitment than your own. That is our governing process and hijacking that process by shelving this Bill into a “study” takes my vote and all the Senators and Representative’s votes and places them in a silent cave. That is not Massachusetts.

    Let H 740 go to the floor and let Massachusetts as a whole determine what is right for today.

  12. Your position shows very little confidence in our Judges. In fact, it boarders on contempt. Why in the world would you assume that a Judge would not have the same concern for fairness, hardship and extenuating circumstances that you possess? That’s a bit pompous, don’t you think? Unfortunately, by placing this Bill in the “black hole” of the legislative process, you prohibit all those men and women who are trapped in flagrantly unfair agreements from seeking the opportunity to rectify the injustice. With all due respect, it is my opinion that your actions display an astonishingly lack of appreciation of both sides of this complex issue.

  13. I am 72 years old, been divorced since 2003. I am still paying alimony every week. I retired from public school in 2004, went on to work in private school until 2016. My former spouse receives a portion of my MTRB, SS and alimony. She did not work the last three years of our marriage and only worked part time 10 years previous to that. She chose not to work. There were no children from the marriage, not of my choosing. She traveles in Europe on my dime, and lives in a condo in Naples FL that I paid for. I am a cancer survivor and feel this is enough. I thought the Alimony Reform of 2011 would have solved my problem, it did NOT

  14. Dear Senator

    Please allow me to respond to your points you outline above:

    1. You wrote: “While the policies in the reforms are generally sound, the question of they should be applied retroactively is much harder.”

    My Response: They were always intended to be retroactive. If you voted for it you should have known at that time. If it wasn’t clear you should have done your job then and clarified it at that time.

    2. You wrote: “Applying the new 2011 rules for retirement and cohabitation retroactively would unsettle an unknown number divorces and lead to an unknown amount of additional litigation.
    It would impose litigation costs on an unknown number of recipient spouses who would be forced to hire lawyers and defend their settled alimony awards.”

    My response: Because of the inability to pay and build a retirement income the litigation will still happen. But instead it will put the hard working payors on the defense. In fact, it will probably lead to greater litigation costs since there will be no alternative for the payors but to go to court when summoned for non-payment

    3. You wrote: “It would result in an unknown number of orders being modified. That number might be small in proportion to the amount of additional litigation — while the new rules add valuable clarity and shift presumptions, they will not necessarily lead to different results”

    My response: The presumptions put payors in the defensive position. Having to defend ourselves against being omitted from something you yourself voted as fair and widely supported.

    4. You wrote: “Finally, litigation costs aside and whether or not new outcomes would result, we should pass retroactive laws only with great caution. As Justice Kennedy commented in a unanimous opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court,
    Retroactive legislation has always been looked upon with disfavor . . . [citations omitted].”

    My Response: As a legislator I’m sure you understand that every situation is different. Although this general statement is a convenient quote for you in this case it does not apply since the litigation will occur regardless

    5. You wrote :The terms of a divorce — which include not only alimony, but a division of assets, child care and other matters — are woven together through bargaining and/or by judicial rulings to reflect a complex web of circumstances. Once the terms are set, the parties build their new lives around those terms.”

    My response: Sir, in my situation I was nieve to the divorce process. My ex was a drug addict and left me and my two kids, one of whom is on the Autism spectrum. She gave up custody to me and never paid me a cent in child support. I agreed to terms I never should have. I wasn’t even aware of the lifetime catch. I’m not stupid, but I relied on an attorney to guide me. At the time she simply said “it can always be modified”. It was a very rough time for me and my children and I presumed the system was fair. Now that I am older and wiser, I realize that was not a good assumption….and I have no way to fix it. The Alimony Reform law was my hope….NOBODY told me it wouldn’t apply to me. It was never indicated at the time it was not retroactive. In fact, it was NEVER intended to be exclusive. That was decided AFTER you voted for it.

    6. You wrote: “The parties both understand that the circumstances may change and that the terms may be subject to judicial modification as a result. However, they have expectations about the rules that will be applied in the changed circumstances. Those expectations shape the original terms. There is an intrinsic risk of unfairness in changing the rules.”

    My Response: The “intrinsic unfairness” is that I am excluded and not allowed to present my case of offered the same protections afforded by Alimony Reform was initially written and approved by vote to REFORM the INTRINSICALLY UNFAIR alimony laws that existed in Massachusetts.
    It is also “intrinsically unfair” that I have to pay a woman for the rest of my life simply because of a failed marriage that ended 10 years ago. Fairness is that a woman in need would receive alimony for a period of time to get on her feet. NOT a lifetime income at my expense with the burden on me to prove that I cant pay anymore at a time in my life when I will not be able to afford a lawyer.

    I sincerely hope you take another look at your bad decision. If you got into this business to ensure justice and fairness you are in my opinion failing miserably in delivering what you signed up for. You have my email address. I would be happy to discuss this with you in person at the time of your choosing. I have tried in the past to make appointments with you but with no luck.

  15. Senator Brownsberger,

    As a member of the Alimony Reform Task Force, I will tell you that your first and most important argument is deeply flawed. H 740 is NOT RETROACTIVE. I simply allows a party to file for a modification if their former spouse is co-habitating and it would also allow a payor to file for a modification when they reached the age that they could collect their FULL retirement. Nothing in the bill is automatic. The word “retroactive” is defined as “taking effect from a date in the past”.

    The question is, did the SJC get their decisions right or did they get it WRONG.

    All the members of the Task Force AGREE that the SJC decisions GOT IT WRONG. The SJC came up with their own opinions concerning the intent of the Alimony Reform Task Force when we drafted the Alimony Reform ct of 2011. Unfortunately Lawyers do what Lawyers do and found a way to manipulate the language in the Act to get what they win.

    For many years bad court decisions like Pierce v Pierce became case law. The reason so many Lawyers, Judges and Legislators, including yourself, loved the Alimony Reform Act is because it legislatively corrected the archaic and draconian problems caused by years of bad decisions from the Family Court.

    H 740 was drafted by the Alimony Reform Task Force as a Legislative Correction of decisions made by the SJC.

    So let’s stick to the Real Argument. Did the SJC err in their interpretation of the ARA of 2011, or did they not. According to the Members of the Task Force, The SJC like yourself, GOT IT WRONG.

    So lets stop the “Chaff”Senator and do the right thing. You have the right to vote your opinion, but it is wrong for you to force your opinion on the voters.

  16. Dear Senator,

    You outline in great detail why you can’t support the bill. The issue should be whether or not the bill has enough merit to pass on to be debated and not about your position on the matter. I understand your position to sort out the Chaff but this is not chaff based on the tremendous support and the original intent of the alimony reform which passed. Chaff would be a bill that has no merit. This H740 is intended to be like a technical correction to a law that was passed of which had tremendous support. Simply speaking, your actions to block fair due process goes against everything this country stands for. I respect your opinions about why you can’t support the bill but you shouldn’t interfere and block the process to be fairly heard. Do the right thing and let it be heard.

  17. We spoke on the phone this morning and you advised me that you took this legislation seriously and wanted more time to study it. You recklessly failed to tell me that you had already made up your mind and intended to kill it, since that is what I read in your posting.

    You were dishonest when you stated your position, as I will describe below.

    I disagree with your conclusions. Your attempt to justify your conclusion is suspect at best. Bad prior law permits retroactive changes. Many prior recipients abused the system and lived off their ex spouses while engaged in other relationships short of marriage. This amounts to legal larceny.

    Your failure to act condones such rampant abuse of the system which the current legislative action tried to ameliorate.

    You are sheltering this gross theft by your position and action. If you want to be on the side of legal theft, your position articulates why you are abusing your position and failing to release this this legislation for a floor vote.

    Your action strikes at the many men that have been taken by their ex-wives. In fact, your statement states that you have already made up your mind. In that case, sending it for further study is subterfuge and dishonest. You really want to make this legislation disappear. Be a man and admit and stop hiding behind the words. You are not taking this seriously has you stated. If you took it seriously, then you would not state your position.

    I detest liars, and you did! You lied to me about this legislation and accused Mr. Hitner of taking a private interchange out of context.

    After reading your response which we discussed.

    I ask that you reconsider your reckless position and be honest and move this legislation forward.

  18. My alimony was based on my working salary of over 100k per annum. When I retired in 2003 after 37 years of government service, my salary dropped to 65k. I have had to go through all of my 401k to support this alimony, to the point where I may have to file for bankruptcy. At 72 years of age this is grossly unfair to have to pay my ex spouse $560 per month, especially considering that she now receives a trust fund from her deceased boy friend. Please consider giving myself and countless other payers a chance to die without being penniless and leaving our current spouses to pay the burden.

  19. I will never understand why it is that I need to continue alimony to my ex-wife through retirement when she already received 1/2 my pension and 1/2 my 401k. That is double dipping. In addition,we were married very young so that after 20 years of marriage she had ample opportunity to better herself but chose not to do so. In essence I will have paid alimony for the same amount of time that we were marred by the time I reach full retirement age. Any additional payments beyond that are purely punitive in nature.

  20. Senator Brownsberger,

    It is hard to imagine you voted originally for the 2011 bill, without knowing whether you intended for it to be retroactive or not.

    Yet, your commentary here suggests that is, indeed, what you are saying you did, as you wrote “The reforms were broadly supported and I voted for them.”

    Are you actually that poor at reviewing legislation you vote on?

    The “broad support” for the 2011 bill was with the understanding it would be retroactive. Given that, your position is one that goes public will.
    Frankly, I do not see how this is much of a debate and not a simple matter for you to have done your job correctly.

    Public officials either need to be on the side of modernizing the divorce laws to recognize gender equality, or be removed from office. Yours is a step in the opposite direction, and a set back for women, not just men.


  21. Senator,
    Your actions to kill this bill is yet another reminder of whats wrong with government. The will of the majority of the people is ignored by the few who have the power to decide their reality. Isn’t that the definition of ‘unfairness’? This bill provides a reasonable framework for fairness. Please reconsider your position.

  22. Mr.Brownsberger,

    Upfront, I have a surviving agreement so this legislation does not affect me personally. I agreed to a surviving agreement after experiencing a severely tilted system designed to reward alimony recipients. Fear of total financial devastation was my motivation. It today’s world I believe those feelings are associated with bullying. No question as a payor I was bullied into financing another person for life. Many I am sure feel the same way. If you actually took the time, honest , unbiased family court judges would verify my claim.
    I find it discouraging that you would have personal feelings that would affect your professional ethics to the point of disallowing the true victims of this process relief from their obvious ongoing pain.
    Draconian law that allows one person to live with no responsibility to a past relationship at the expense of another is EXACTLY the type of law
    that demands change .
    I will probably never retire. I will not be able to after supporting two households for the last 17 years and counting. Get off your comfy chair and allow this bill to the floor for a vote.

  23. Perhaps I am the only woman here who suffered through a 32 year marriage full of abuse. As a result, I have PTSD. My ex is hiding behind a BiPolar disability and also collecting SSDI. He is physically and mentally able to support himself yet I am forced to pay my abuser $550 every WEEK! Why? Because iofbantiquated laws? Because no one had the courage to do the right thing? Is there no relief for me? My children are in their mid 30’s. I shouldn’t have to support this person who is playing every angle of every system so that he can to be a freeloader. There is no end in sight for me. The law is simply wrong! Please reconsider and do the right thing. No one is entitled to a lifetime of free support and no one should be fired into involuntary slavery… my marriage license didn’t come with directions. If I signed a contract, I wasn’t given the terms of the contract that contained a lifetime slavery clause. Isn’t that fraud? Even a pack of cigarettes come with warnings. Shouldn’t marriage licenses??

  24. Dear Mr. Chairman,

    Thank you for the opportunity to understand your reasoning and post comments on House 740. I am a little puzzled by your communication, because your email suggests that you would like feedback, but your communication makes it clear that you have firmly made up your mind and are opposed to the bill. Nevertheless, I would like to respond.

    First, I would like you to understand that the payors and the payees are not the only parties who are affected by unfair alimony judgments. As the wife of a payor, I can attest to the fact that problems in the law around retirement and cohabitation affect not only my husband but also our entire family, including the children from his first marriage as well as myself and our additional children. We have worked tirelessly to support his children through their emancipation and beyond. I have gone so far as to cosign student loans for my stepchildren when my husband’s credit ran dry, and loan money to my step-children for their graduate education. I’m only reporting this to help you understand that my husband wasting money on unfair alimony affects all of us – even his children, who see their mother cohabitating for nine years with a man who moved into their childhood home and lives off her alimony…. Money that my husband could be putting towards their weddings or graduate education.

    Second, I would like to challenge your use of the SJC decisions in your reasoning against this bill. The SJC decisions were important in that they clarified that the 2011 law, as written, was not technically retroactive, despite its intentions (which, as other responders have pointed out, were widely understood). That’s fine. The point of the courts is to clarify the existing law. The point of the legislature is to write a new law to fix the mistake. I don’t see why the SJC’s opinion about whether payees are entitled to prevent the retirement of payors is relevant. If the majority of people believe that payors should be able to seek modification in order to retire at retirement age, the legislature is entitled to pass legislation putting that into effect. And it seems to me that most people feel that way. We certainly feel that way. I can’t understand why my husband should have to make a huge case for retiring after all the time he put in supporting his ex-wife, who purposefully failed to reach full employment, well after her kids were taken care of, so that she could remain dependent. As other respondents have pointed out, the bill does not automatically remove alimony upon retirement age; it just makes it easier to modify. A judge would still be able to require my husband to work if s/he felt that was best.

    Finally, I appreciate your point that the terms of a divorce are “woven together… to reflect a complex web of circumstances.” However, one of those complexities is the fact that most payors were not educated to understand that their payments would follow them through subsequent marriages, families, and retirement, until death, regardless of the conditions of the payee. Most payors were paying extreme legal costs for both themselves and the payee in order to effectuate the divorce and had extreme incentive to concede even unfair points, or terms they did not fully grasp, in order to complete the divorce. I urge you to allow payors more leniency in seeking retroactive modifications for reasons of cohabitation and retirement, since the current system is unfair.

  25. Dear Senator Brownsberger
    It was disappointing reading your thoughts and conclusion on House Bill H.740. I am not a very political person and have always believed that reasonable people when presented with the facts would always be fair and do the right thing. You alone have placed this bill into the a place where it will not be acted on even though the majority of your fellow Senators are in favor of moving it to a vote. Whatever happened to We the People. I have been paying alimony for over 22 years and the thought of it continuing until my death are unthinkable. My ex-wife owns her own home valued at over $450,000 with no mortgage and is employed. I was forced to retire after working for the same company for 44 years due to the company relocating down south for cheaper labor.
    It appears to me your mind was made up from day one on the bill given your wording and reasoning. Why you had the meeting in May of 2017 was a joke and a waste of everyone’s time. It only gave everyone hope only to be crushed by you. In my mind you never even considered moving this forward and just put on a dog and pony show to save face. House Bill H.740 was not a free pass but gave people like myself the opportunity to see if anything could be done on the life sentences we have been given. My Ex does not need the money but when you hit a lifetime lottery win that pays you yearly like alimony does you run all the way to the bank.
    It is a good thing you were not a Senator many years ago we would probably still be burning witches at the stake up in Salem. Another good thing is that you are not part of any parole board because you would have everyone rotting in prison. I am sorry for the tone of this e-mail but you have just sentenced me to a lifetime of pain and financial ruin.
    Shame on you Senator.
    Bruce E Woloski

  26. Senator Brownsberger, I do not pay alimony anymore. I separated from my wife in 1996 . She cohabited from 2000 until about 2013 during which I was increasingly distressed by financial adversity. I requested a complaint to modify and discovered that she was supplementing the alimony with about $13,000 annually, which I believe was from an undeclared offshore account She did not declare the interest payment or the principle on her tax returns. In 2012 after alimony reform, the payments ended and I was able to pay down my mortgage and retire at age 70. When the alimony ended she immediately married the person she was cohabiting with. You refuse to acknowledge the complete inadequacy of the court system to take FACTS into account. You cause major stress to the payor, with health consequences particularly in the older population. You discourage the payor from new partnerships and you discourage the alimony recipient from getting on with their own lives. I believe you also discourage informed people from the institution of marriage itself . I do not know the reason for your undermining necessary reform , but you are a lawyer and are fully conversant with the notion that when some action is inexplicable, “Follow the money” Alimony reform is about 50 years overdue in Massachusetts.

  27. I wonder how you’d enjoy your ex-spouse (in my case, ex-wife) enjoying the life or Riley with her live-in boyfriend of five years, another for six years prior, while I send along her weekly checks to support her drinking habits! I am left to support one in college and saddled with all of the $80,000 tuition of the other. She doesn’t make any payments on either. She works for cash so as not to jeopardize her eligibility for alimony. You have no idea how hard this is to watch her enjoy her financial freedom, out in the bars every night with her co-habitant boyfriend!

  28. Opening comment: Under the 2011 Alimony Reform Act, I needed to do the following to retire – reach my full retirement age, and cease paying Alimony. Planning how to retire and pay for it was as simple as seeing what my SSI payment would be, and what was left of my 401K (1/2 of which was given to my ex-wife at time of divorce), and work around those $’s – no payments to my former spouse. But as the 2011 ARA unraveled, I now have no option but to hire a Lawyer, go back to Court with my Ex, and see how much money we can feed into the Legal system again (our divorce cost $75K in Legal Fees) before I find out if I can afford to retire while still paying her. The system is broken, we knew that prior to 2011, but now 7 years later we’ve decided to leave anyone divorced prior to 2011 in the broken system, no reason to offer them any relief ? What changed in the last 6+ years, as the ARA of 2011 had overwhelming support in both the House & the Senate ? I willingly took on my kids College loans (stupidly not negotiating that in our Divorce), and will be paying on those for years to come yet, significantly reduced my life style, all while she still lives in the custom home we built on 8 acres, which I pay for and apparently will until I die…

  29. You are not alone. My situation is very similar. The fact is there are many ex spouses that abuse this system. The burden to keep getting payments after the durational limits should be on the receiver to justify the need, not the payer. I have raised our two children alone…with no assistance financial or otherwise from my ex. And I am forced to pay HER alimony…for life. How, Senator Brownsberger, can you view this as fair?!

  30. Senator- you are clearly an uninformed moron. I hope you never have to deal with divorce in the state of Massachusetts.

  31. I take exception, Senator, with your calling this bill “chaff.” My husband was divorced two months too early and now has a lifetime of alimony to a woman who has chosen to work part time. The 20 hours a week she works as a child-care worker is equal to the hours I spend commuting to my job at the federal courthouse in Boston, and then I work a 50-hour week. She lives in a brand-new townhome and we are residing in an attic of an 1800’s home (three-story walkup). You have daughters and have to ask yourself if they were responsible for alimony, would you then be willing to let your committee take testimony on this bill? My friend who has a new life, new wife, another family is forced to pay alimony to his former wife when she skirts the law by cohabitating with her partner rather than marrying him. You do not understand this bill and are wrong to not let it be brought up for debate. Your actions have hurt many and are shameful!

  32. Senator Brownsberger,

    In reading through your reasons for not supporting H740, I believe you are missing some very important aspects of the bill.

    “The court may set a different alimony termination date for good cause shown” and “reasons for the extension that are supported by clear and convincing evidence”.

    Certainly judges would have discretion in determining modifications when there is clear and convincing evidence. If a receiver of alimony has need, then certainly they should continue to receive alimony even if determined to be at a reduced amount. But when the law is clearly being abused through co-habitation, early retirement by the recipient or by the many other horror stories by those paying alimony; those of us burdened with alimony for life should have the right to file for modification.

    You indicated that “Once the terms are set, the parties build their new lives around those terms”. Well what about all of us that made financial decisions after the passing of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011? We thought that we would have the right to go back for modification due to co-habitation or retirement, but then found out later that we can not. As you said “There is an intrinsic risk of unfairness in changing the rules”. Isn’t that exactly what the SJC did with their interpretation of the Alimony Reform Act?

    When I got divorced after spending several years and several thousands of dollars in litigation, I had to agree with the laws at the time in regards to the split in assets and alimony payments determined based on a percent of difference in our earnings. We both understood that this was a modifiable agreement. I should now have the right to file for modification based on the reform.

  33. Dear Senator,

    I was a young man when I got divorced at the age of 27 years old. For over the next 30 years I was paying alimony to a spouse who was working and cohabitating all those years. This was do to archaic divorce laws. Finally the law has been changed and made fair. But, due to some greedy lawyers and out of touch politicians like yourself who prefer to kill the bill without any discussion. I am an old man now and am still working. I live a simple lifestyle compared to former spouse and boyfriend who have had it all.
    Hope you have a change of heart.

    Jim C.

  34. Why is it fair or correct that a person receiving alimony should live in a marriage type relationship and still collect alimony? This is not 1974 where cohabitation was considered improper. People are gaming the system and double dipping by collecting lifetime alimony and having the benefit of a new partner minus the piece of paper called marriage. If there wasn’t a problem with the law prior to 2011, then there wouldn’t have been a reason for a fix which was done unanimously and signed by the governor. Everyone deserves the opportunity to retire, and people paying lifetime alimony, unless they are very wealthy, cannot. YOU SENATOR OWE THE CITIZENS AN OPPORTUNITY TO PUT THIS TO A FLOOR VOTE. You are NOT a dictator and you are removing the due process of passing laws by putting them up for a vote. SHAME ON YOU.

  35. Since when should someone be forced to support another adult until either one of them dies? My husband was divorced after 33 years of marriage in 2011 and unfortunately, the divorce was filed in December 2011, just prior to the new alimony laws going into effect. His attorney even drafted the language of his divorce based on the new laws because he thought they would be applicable to my husband in terms of the retirement provision.

    My husband is 67 years old and has no hope of retirement if his alimony burden of $400 a week, plus 25% of his yearly bonus (for a total of $25,000 a year) isn’t eliminated or at the very least reduced. His ex-wife collects disability and most likely nets more income each week than he does! His 401K was split 50/50 in the divorce. Why should he continue to pay her out of his retirement income too?

    A second wife’s income is not supposed to factor into paying alimony, but how can it not since more of my income is needed to support our household due to the alimony payments. My retirement someday is also in jeopardy.

    All we’re asking here, Senator Brownsberger, is an opportunity to go to court to modify the current agreement so that my husband can consider retirement. He has worked since he was 12 years old and deserves a break!

  36. Dear Sen Brownsberger, Thank you for explaining your reasoning for opposing H740. I join those who respectfully disagree with your conclusions and hope that you will hear our voices.

    Emotions can run strong on this topic, where people have been living under the yoke of an open-ended financial obligation to their ex-spouses and faced with an extremely unfair abuse of what the outdated case law, prior to 2011 allowed.

    Steve Hitner made the point that the word “retroactive” is itself provocative. If the Alimony Reform Act (ARA) of 2011 had truly been retroactive, many of us would have been able to seek reimbursement of past payments. No one was trying to be that draconian in reforming the law, but we were clearly looking to provide relief to people who were already suffering under the old law.

    When the SJC ruled that the ARA of 2011 did not intend to provide such relief to parties to existing divorces, they went to the uncodified provisions of the act and looked very narrowly at the use of the word “prospectively”. That interpretation is certainly not what we intended when many of us testified at public hearings and had thoughtful conversations with our legislators.
    It is also not what was intended by the members of the Alimony Reform Task Force, per Steve Hitner’s first hand account, when those members spent spent many hundreds of hours carefully crafting the original text of the bill and considering the many cases which would need to be covered.

    Whether the error was in the SJC interpretation, or in the ambiguity left in the final version of the act which was voted into law, the remedy now seems simple and can be quite surgical in nature. It will bring the originally intended relief to those who have suffered too long under the old law, and it will continue to provide a safety net for those true exception cases which still need to be considered individually.

    Please support this much needed correction when it comes before your committee again. It is most definitely not chaff.

  37. The Supreme court ruling was idiotic.You know that. The bill gave me a date to apply and put me first in line as a person of retirement age. My ex has a net worth larger than I with a home in Cohasset worth over 2 million. I am now a 74 year old physician working with a 25 year old who needs my help, and an 18 year old with a disability. No children by the first marriage. I formerly paid 40 percent alimony, now 30 percent of salary.

    If the Supreme court was idiotic, so are you.
    Alan M. Schwartz MD

  38. Senator Brownsberger,
    During my divorce in 2008-2010 I was granted full custody of my daughter as me Ex abandoned her. My daughter is now 25yo. My ex made $86,000.00 the last year of our marriage (the judge called that a “fluke year”. She also received half my retirement, 3/4 of my 401k, 3/4 of the sale of the house. She walked away with over half a million dollars.I walked away with $50,000.00 in debt. My Ex fraudulently obtained loans in my name and all 3 of my daughters names, where she received an additional $85,00 Dollars. All this was proven in divorce court at trial. Also proven was that she had been arrested with a firearm while threatening to shoot her boyfriends brother over Methamphetamine. She also was on probation for threatening to kill me with a gun and silencer. While the Judge recognized that she was cohabiting with her boyfriend, had always maintained employment and outright committed fraud upon the divorce court he still awarded her an alimony payment of $501.00 a week saying that under the Alimony guidelines at that time (and now again current time), that she had an absolute right to Alimony based on our being married over 20 years. This sir was and is unfair based on an antiquated law. I as well as all divorcees should have a right to revisit and adjust our “Lifetime” alimony payment. You sir oppose the bill because you would not take the time to hear of individual situations such as mine. Or to educate yourself on past law and current and because I bet Alimony does not affect you!! I hope it never does affect you!! While my Ex receives $501.00 a week I get $300.00 a week after I pay her. I am being punished for being a hardworking man, a faithful man whose wife decided to move on with another person, yet I now have to pay alimony to support her and her boyfriend until I die. In closing I would like to say that I did not appreciate your Callous remarks about the 740 Bill.I hope you take the time to reconsider your view of the bill! It has ruined my life and I am a broken man, who still has to pay…

    James Rattigan

  39. Senator Brownsberger,
    I was widowed at 36 left with three young children to raise on my own. In time I remarried, never realizing that the corrupt State of MA would actually use me and my tragic situation to subsidize my husband’s adulterous ex wife who was co-habitating with her still married boyfriend. Her wicked lawyer tried to bring me into the case, trying to gain access to my deceased husband’s estate and my Fatherless children’s bank accounts. They did all this so that they could prove my husband had enough money with me contributing so he could pay her more. He gave his ex 3/4 of his money and I was left to support the household on my own. Even after we had another child together they left me without any help. I could write a book on all the injustices that the state put me and my young children through. Alimony and child support are a joke. Women use the money for fancy houses, new cars, and luxury vacations. There is something seriously flawed with a system that leaves 99 percent of women rich and the men destitute. Women are then able to go to their second marriages with 3 incomes and men who even try to get remarried can’t even contribute to their households. if they have children with their second wife, these kids are not allowed the same standard of living because they are second class citizens. MA lawmakers are like the Nazis. I ultimately had to divorce my second husband so that his ex could not steal anymore of my money or my sanity. And NO I don’t get alimony. My former husband had many degrees and after all his money was attached he was left with 300.00 a week to live on. I ask you Senator, could you live on that? His ex makes 130,000 a year. So this is just???

  40. Dear Senator Brownsberger: I respectfully disagree with your argument and with the conclusions you draw. Alimony Reform applies today in part to old divorce judgements – but not in respect of cohabitation or retirement. The issue is not one of prospective or retroactive it is a question of public policy. As a matter of public policy it is bizarre to favor cohabitation over marriage — but you choose to do so. Further, the Pierce doctrine punishes remarriage – again a choice by you to discriminate against married couples in favor of the cohabitors. Second spouses must subsidize payees – but the earners in their household need not. Why you prefer cohabitation over marriage is hard to fathom. As for retirement – under current law, payors under old divorces have to gamble – retire – and litigate – and then once unemployed – find out if relief will be afforded or not. Again, plainly irrational as a matter of public policy to impose this dilemma on all old payors. Your solution is to recognize that the 1974 law has served the Commonwealth poorly but to remedy its evident defects only through the eventual passing of the generation of second spouses and retired payors suffering injustice at your hands. Your solution is to wait for them to die off. One would only hope for better public policy outcomes.

  41. I have to give Senator Brownsberger credit for going public with his views and I generally give him credit for his efforts at judicial reform in the criminal realm, but in this case I fear everyone’s pained heartfelt pleas will go unanswered.

    Sorry folks but repeal of lifetime alimony must have been a devastating blow to the divorce industry, if given a choice between waiting out a perhaps unjust 10 year sentence or throwing away tens of thousands of dollars or more seeking justice in a kangaroo court, most rational people probably do the math and choose the former. More than just doing the math, a tenner in Gulag parlance is an injustice that the spirit can survive. The lifetime sentence is something that the spirit can’t survive, like a chain that bites deeper into the skin as time goes on. On the business end a slave for life is much easier to defraud than someone doing a tenner, the false hope the divorce industry sells can’t get a very good price when the victim knows he or she will walk away a free person at some point.

    Regarding getting sympathy from people on the other side of the wall, don’t count on it. Your misery makes their good fortune seem that much sweeter (schadenfreude) and it serves as a warning to others to cling to Mr Browsbergers norms as tightly as possible lest ye become one of these outcasts (schadenfreude again). “There for the grace of God, go I” doesn’t apply here.

    I’ve gone in and out of fighting for your rights for over 20 years and in my view your just plain screwed, study Mohandas Gandhi maybe or the Dutch resistance to the 100 year Spanish occupation for a way out but democracy has failed you here and it will continue to fail you until you die a slave.

  42. Although I am not divorced, I have seen others suffer under the wrongheaded and unjust SJC decision of 2015 that perpetuated elements of antiquated divorce law in Massachusetts. I feel I must add my voice to the compelling arguments and tragic personal accounts that others have offered here. In criminal-justice reform and other areas of policy, Sen. Brownsberger strongly supports equal justice under law. Here, by contrast, he is disingenuous in his dismissal of House 740 as too unimportant or flawed to be worthy of the full committee’s consideration, in his selective and prejudicial application of the term “retroactive,” and in his refusal to admit that the SJC decision contradicted the intention of the 2011 reform act. He is wrong on both process and content.

    Of necessity, legislative committees resolve many routine questions without a formal vote. The chair says yea or nay, and the other members nod their assent. But that is no way to dispose of an issue that is both contentious and consequential. I once observed a committee chair call for a member to be paged so that she could cast a vote that he knew would be opposed to his own. But then, that was 33 years ago.

    It likewise flies in the face of reality to claim that the alimony reforms of 1974, however constructive they were, successfully “jettisoned traditional law” and provided a “balanced framework” for alimony. In practice, as the sad and outrageous stories told in previous comments amply document, the anachronistic, gender-biased notion of “in the style to which she is accustomed” remains all too alive and well. And it is worse than misleading for opponents of the legislation to raise the specter of elderly women losing their homes. From what I can see, in almost all cases the issue is not financial hardship for the recipient of alimony (against which there are safeguards), but the preservation of unearned and unjust privilege. People with professional degrees, six-figure incomes, or seven-figure fortunes are receiving alimony as a lifetime sinecure. Are they at risk of losing their homes? Their mansions, maybe.

    On an issue as consequential as this, the Committee needs to take an up-or down vote. Every member should stand up and be counted. By unilaterally precluding such a vote, Sen. Brownsberger is killing the bill for this session. Worse yet, a change in federal tax law will likely make it difficult to impossible subsequently to enact this needed reform. Alimony reform deserves something better than death without due process.

    I have to wonder at this contravention of Sen. Brownsberger’s democratic principles, as well as his rigid adherence to discredited arguments. I must note that Sen. Cynthia Creem, the most vocal opponent of House 740, is also a member of the Committee on the Judiciary, and she and Sen. Brownsberger are both members of the Senate Committee on Ethics. Sen. Creem is, by the way, a divorce lawyer. (So much for the argument that this legislation will lead to more litigation!) These two otherwise progressive legislators have a right to oppose this important legislation, but they have no moral right to suppress it. That is an unacceptable abuse of power.

  43. It was upsetting to hear your comment that you feel this issue is chaff, not wheat.

    150 years ago, 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War. These Americans gave their lives to a noble cause. The results of this unprecedented human sacrifice are the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to our Constitution, known as the “Civil War Amendments”. These are not trivial laws. A very dear price has been paid by our forefathers for the protection that these amendments provide to the American people.

    The 13th Amendment states that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

    Yet today, citizens are sentenced to a lifetime of involuntary servitude to another, often with no hope of ever being set free, nor being able to retire, even as they become elderly citizens of the Commonwealth.

    The current divorce system in the Commonwealth deprives citizens of their liberty and property. Many have no hope of ever being free from the shackles of indentured servitude.

    “Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: first, a right to life; secondly, to liberty; thirdly to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can.”
    –Samuel Adams

  44. Senator Brownsberger,
    How about letting the courts decide if the “possible harms..outweigh the possible benefits” on a case-by-case basis? In my opinion, just because you disagree with a particular piece of legislation, doesn’t mean you should kill it. How can we expect our legislators to carry out any reform, when they act as you have?
    There are many, many lawyers, congress people and Massachusetts citizens who agree that alimony for life is a ridiculous notion. We live in the state with the most antiquated alimony laws in the nation.
    My partner was married for just under 20 years and has been divorced for over 20 years. He has paid child support and college tuition and over $400K in alimony so far. His divorce judgment was completely unfair, as his ex-wife was perfectly capable of working and could have made a very comfortable living without all his additional money.
    As we both look toward retirement, the yearly alimony cost continues to hang over our head. Why should we have to work longer to give someone else our hard-earned money. That makes no sense.
    I, too, was divorced, but I am an independent, employed, self supporting parent who wouldn’t want to be dependent on anyone to support me for the rest of my life. It sets back women’s rights back a hundred years.
    If you really regretted leaving “some people without adequate recourse”, you wouldn’t have decided to kill this bill. I would change “some” to hundreds and likely even thousands.

  45. For all the difficult cases cited already, the problem happens to be that there are seniors who have adhered to the rules set at the time of their divorces. If the rules – that is, the contract to which they agreed – are changed, they will not have enough money because they are no longer in a position to provide for themselves differently. One may wish that the contract had been different but it isn’t and changing the rules retroactively runs the risk of punishing people who have adhered to the divorce agreement they negotiated and signed.

  46. Blackstone’s formulation: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”

    Brownsberger’s formulation: “I recognize that that conclusion may leave some people without adequate recourse and I regret that. Legislation always involves the setting of rules and rules are never perfect.”

    1. Blackstone’s principle is about the state punishing people criminally.

      This is about the resolution of disputes between former spouses — a civil question where both parties are private and, at least as to alimony, one person’s gain is the other person’s loss.

      1. Funny you bring up “criminally”..because in effect the payor is “punished “for a crime….Please let me know what crime the payor committed. Don’t give me the “civil” argument..because anyone that has been through this system knows that the “private” settlement has been decided by the courts or is ” extorted” by the payee….
        Let’s be HONEST…if you are capable…the responsible people are paying and the irresponsible are collecting…seems like you are ok with this..keep teaching people to be irresponsible Senator….you seem to believe in lifetime welfare…

  47. Senator,
    Although I respect your opinion, I respectfully disagree with it, and to be honest, appalled by your comment calling H 740 “chaff”. I don’t understand why you deem it appropriate to be the judge, jury and executioner of such an important piece of legislation, and not let due process prevail, put this bill to the floor for a vote.

    “The equal rights of man, and the happiness of every individual, are now acknowledged to be the only legitimate objects of government.”
    ? Thomas Jefferson

    I respectfully request you read all these comments, they make excellent points, and although I’m sure your position will not change, the fact this should be voted on by the Legislature has been made very clear, and is the right thing to do. I ask you that you do the right thing.

    My ex-wife has a four year college degree, she is very healthy and chooses to work 4 hours a day, and only during the school year, as I struggle to make end meet. She has no interest in becoming self sufficient, she has me supporting her for the rest of my life. She has enjoyed vacations out of the country and several cruises to the Caribbean, I work, period. I will never be able to retire, and as I am now 60 years old, having worked since the age of 14, the thought of working until I die, or my health fails dramatically is nothing I look forward to. I was under the mistaken impression the Alimony Reform Act would allow me to retire, or at least be able to work beyond retirement, and put a way money to retire, as currently my retirement money has and continues to go towards alimony. Senator, you now have the ability to place this bill in front of the Legislature for a vote, which would speak volumes of your character and integrity.
    respectfully, Gregg

  48. Senator,

    Please do the right thing and bring this bill to the senate floor for vote. The alimony law is unfair and the people have overwhelmingly agreed that it needs reform. Shame on you. You do not serve the people. So many people have been harmed and suffered by the archaic alimony laws in MA – do your job and revise the law to something that is fair and just for all involved.

  49. I have read your online statement and I think there may be some confusion between your role as a Senator and your role on the Judiciary Committee.

    As a senator, you are to thoughtfully review and and strongly advocate for laws that serve your general constituency. I understand that occasionally you will come down on the side of the minority in order to protect a perceived disadvantaged group. Your online statement falls into this category. You even outwardly admit you don’t like the content of the bill but have not said that the bill was without merit. You are concerned about the retroactivity of the bill. The bill doesn’t give anyone anything automatically. It merely gives the payer an opportunity when justice requires. But this should be argued before the senate and voted on.

    Your role on the judiciary committee is to determine if a bill warrants review and a vote in the senate. The “chaff” as you say would pertain to frivolous bills that serve as nothing but pork barrel or perhaps have no additional support by fellow senators. Your role is to weed out those bills, not judge them. If they have support for a vote then they should be presented. They should be put to a vote.

    Bill H740 had much support. You, Sir are one of the ONLY senators who doesn’t agree with it. It seems very clear, that should it go to a vote, it would have passed. Almost unanimously. It could be perceived that you have used your power on the judiciary committee to avoid a bill that you knew you couldn’t win with a fair vote. That would be abuse of power.

    I respectfully ask that if it is within your power, please reconsider sending this bill to vote. Play fair. Plead your points fairly. Don’t take unfair advantage of your position of power.

  50. I would like to reply specifically to your comment below:
    “The parties both understand that the circumstances may change and that the terms may be subject to judicial modification as a result. However, they have expectations about the rules that will be applied in the changed circumstances. Those expectations shape the original terms.”
    My attorney specifically advised me to make my agreement with my former husband modifiable so when he returned to his pre-divorce earning potential (he was laid off and chose to allow me to support our family for 6 years while turning down opportunities for employment)I would be able to apply for a modification. As it turns out, this was bad advice as there is simply no motivation for my former husband to earn at his capacity with current laws and the bad interpretation of Alimony Reform. I even waived child support and my children accepted very small contributions to the overall cost of their college education to enable him a rapid return to his full earning capacity with his computer programming career. Instead, he has the option of working in a low-stress, low-pay position and maintaining a relationship with his girlfriend for the past 10 years…all while being paid $32,500/year for waking up each day. Let’s contrast that with the last 10 years for me: 1) I provided for my children and paid for the majority of their college education (they are now self-supporting at 26 and 29). 2) I provided a home for those same children who lived only with me by selling the pre-divorce home and splitting the equity with my former husband (again so he could get back on his feet). 3) I paid for and completed my graduate degree in order to improve my earnings potential; to support my children and former husband. You are right – my former husband has expectations – as long as he does nothing to improve his financial situation (just as he did nothing for the last 6 years of our marriage) and does not cohabitate with his girlfriend, he can “expect” to be paid by me for doing nothing.
    In addition, we have the added bonus that he is 7 years older than me. He was 51 and I was 44 when we divorced. Even if I was able to file for a modification at my full retirement age of 67, I would have paid him nearly $750,000 in alimony over 23 years. That is TWO years LONGER than we were married. I have no doubt that my former husband will retire on schedule with significant retirement income (from my retirement savings) and ultimately half of my social security (as he will have under-earned me because he had alimony). You are correct, rules are never perfect, however, you are not enabling the legislative process of a vote on H 740. You are determining that this bill is “chaff” and preventing my legislative representation (who support this bill) from voting. I assure you, having the ability to plan the rest of my life should not be considered “worthless” or “trash”. Please allow H 740 to be voted on.

  51. The clear language of the alimony reform act as enacted by the legislature and enacted by the governor would allow fair treatment of those payors who retire or whose former spouse cohabitates. The court was wrong when it reached into other parts of the text and applied them to this issue. The bill that you discarded as “chaff” would have fixed this.

    Please allow the legislature to debate this rather than killing it. I assume that the bill you sponsored (S.2176) for a sick leave bank for a state employee deserves more consideration than the thousands of alimony payors for whom the alimony reform is vital?

  52. Dear Senator Brownsberger:

    It was very clear during the ARA process in 2011 that the intention was for the changes to apply to already-settled divorces. As to the argument that payees would have negotiated differently if they had known that the terms could be changed: Trust that my husband would have negotiated differently during his divorce from his ex-wife if he had had all the facts, as well. If he had known she had been siphoning money from his paychecks during their entire marriage and had secret accounts; if he had known she had been cheating on him with women since their engagement; if he had known that she would be cohabitating for the next fifteen years with a felon who did prison time for fraud; if he had known that his mentally ill and dysfunctional adult daughters would lie in court to enable their mother to continue to plunder from him; if he had known that his ex-wife had no intention of ever, ever returning to work after she quit her job just prior to the alimony hearing at age 47; and if he’d truly known that alimony was for life.

    Also trust that if I’d ever had a hint that MY income could be used to support his non-working ex-wife–despite the fact that I signed a pre-nup and refused to take alimony from my own ex-husband during our divorce–I would never have married him.

  53. Responding here to your comment of Feb 17 above: Explain then the purpose of the 2011 ARA if it has no impact on those divorced before it was enacted ? You’re saying in essence that you agree the system is flawed – and voted accordingly, but are now satisfied in leaving the majority to live under the very system you voted to correct ? Why is this decision left in the hands of a single person I would like to ask, as clearly you have made up your mind on this issue ?

  54. February 23… your newsletter..”Should emails stay private after you die?”.. You want opinions? I thought you stated your job was to separate the wheat from the chaff??? Really Senator?? Respectfully, Alimony Reform should have been a higher priority to you since it affects the living… not the dead. Shame!!!

  55. Dear Senator Browsberger,

    I was first offended by your dismissal of the the Alimony reform correction bill as “chaff”, only to be totally dumbfounded by your circular reasoning published above. You succeeded only in getting it wrong twice, Senator.

    The image of George Wallace, standing in the schoolhouse doorway comes to my mind. Standing in the way of overdue reform, that was supported by many more people than who opposed it, clinging to some perverse political argument that we can live with a “separate but equal” set of laws. That’s exactly what your decision to “study” the H740 is: selectively segregating a population of humans into two distinct classes, those divorced before 2011 and those after. But it’s more because only a portion of the original Alimony reform has been carved out; which makes you original support of that bill and subsequent killing of the effort to restore it as it was originally intended, a paramount hypocrisy.

    I also see your actions identical to Sean Spicer’s attempts to misrepresent crowd size because there was strong support from both sides of the statehouse for H470. It was passed unanimously in the House the session before. I spoke with several Senators and Representatives, and they all wanted to resolve the dichotomy created by the SJC fixed. But, similar to Mr Spicer, you attempted to paint a different picture and present “alternative facts” instead of doing your job.

    I have been actively involved in the efforts to reform the unfair alimony laws of Massachusetts since 2006. I have given my testimony in front of you several times, and I will no doubt again. The position you hold in the Judiciary Committee will hopefully soon end due to your blatant inability to allow fair and open debate on a measure that has broad interest and impact to the voters. You have increased the activism within me to speak out against the injustice of the two class alimony decision, as well as others who are not “chaff”.

  56. Dear Senator,

    Following the hearing on HB 740 at which I spoke May 15, 2017, you asked me to write to you explaining support for the House bill. I did so on 5/19/17 addressing the issues raised by the hearing, a copy of which is attached.

    The Bill sprung from reaction to the SJC decisions in 2016 which it was believed, misconstrued the legislative intent. The Legislative Task Force, involved in the original ARA, worked to address the concerns expressed after those decisions to attempt to create legislation to correct that interpretation. This was not to create new law, but was intended to be corrective legislation in the face of what was viewed as judicial misconstruction. Although there was what appeared to be unanimous support from the House, it came as a surprise and disappointment that I learned that you have characterized this important legislation as “chaff”, not worthy of being put forth to a vote by the Senate.

    Although you have written your explanation for choosing to have done so, I think your focus fails to recognize the purpose of this legislation in furthering the separation of powers in our great democracy. The Courts are not the last word on legislation when their decision is not consistent with the intention of the legislature in creating law. The way to address that is not by characterizing the legislation as worthless and failing to bring the Bill forward before the State legislature, but is to champion its presentation to have things set right.

    I think you also focus on 2 aspects of the Bill alone while disregarding completely Section 1 of HB 740 which was added in the interests of a group, overwhelmingly women, to have an opportunity for alimony while, without this legislation, that opportunity under the current law may not exist.

    On the other two elements of the Bill, cohabitation and retirement age impact on alimony, I think you have posed the question incorrectly. You said that the question is whether or not you should reopen many of the older alimony cases involving long term marriages. In fact the questions really are (1) should we have a consistent body of law regarding these elements applicable to all citizens regardless of when they were divorced and (2) should the opportunity exist for a payor spouse to seek relief from the court, with uncertainty of outcome, consistent with public policy principles established by the ARA.

    I understand that neither you, nor anyone, has any argument to support why someone divorced prior to the ARA, distinct from someone divorced post ARA, would have a different rule regarding post ARA cohabitation. There is no intellectually credible suggestion that someone in that position would have tried to negotiate or argue to a court that there should have been a different division of property or greater support in order to obtain that exemption. The public policy established by the ARA was that cohabitation of 3 months or more should result in a termination, suspension or reduction of support. There is no argument for why that shouldn’t apply to everyone other than it gets piggybacked in on the resistance to the retirement age opportunity for modification section of 740.

    So that is 2 out of the three issues addressed by 740 for which there are no supportable bases for opposition. That leaves only the retirement age opportunity for modification which is your objection. As I have written before. Nothing provides an automatic change. Even the fact of a material change of circumstance does not in and of itself mean a reduction or elimination will occur. What it does do is give the opportunity to see if there is a basis for continued alimony at the same or a different level than before.

    The ARA was in part to remedy the impact of an earlier SJC decision Pierce v Pierce. You even selectively cite that case in your piece. But what you don’t identify, is that in that case even the SJC acknowledges that “A probate court has the power to reduce the alimony provisions of its divorce judgment retroactively, as well as prospectively…” You seem to miss this point as do others who argue against 740. The ARA tried to limit that authority related to this legislation by saying the provisions would not apply retroactively regarding cohabitation and retirement age. That was a directive to the Probate Court that they could not apply those provisions retroactively to require reimbursement by a recipient to a payor or forgive an arrearage based on a prior cohabitation or earlier reaching of retirement age. The fact that the legislative intent was to have the entire act apply to post enactment modifications of pre act non surviving alimony judgments was evidenced by sections 5 and 6 of the Act which contemplated phasing in these modification actions over time. The fact that the SJC apparently failed to acknowledge that shouldn’t intimidate the legislature from doing what it intended and curing it through 740 enactment.

    Contrary to what you state and imply, 740 would not give the alimony payor automatic ability to have a prior alimony order modified. In fact, the standard under 740 is less stringent for a pre ARA alimony recipient than a post ARA recipient to continue alimony beyond retirement age. 740 would not as you contend “reopen for dispute financial arrangements in many older divorces”. Rather, it would give the opportunity to payors to ask for relief from alimony orders on the same bases as the rest of the population. Whether they get it or not is up to the court based on a consideration of the circumstances of the parties at the time the matter comes before the court. Remember, the alimony orders which we are talking about are not “surviving” agreements but are only those which were subject to modification by reason of merger of agreements or judgment after trial. For you to refer to these as “settled alimony awards” which have to be defended by a recipient is not really an accurate representation. No non-surviving alimony judgment is “settled” given its susceptibility to modification which is known to litigants in the distinction between surviving and merged judgments. Your resistance to 740 also communicates an unwarranted lack of confidence in our judiciary to make the decisions necessary in applying the conditions and analysis called for by 740 over which they have been provided discretion.

    Your argument regarding retroactive unfairness, citing a US Supreme court case, misuses the term retroactive in the context of 740. 740 would not be prohibited retroactive legislation any more than the durational time limits of the ARA would be as already determined by the SJC in VanArsdale v VanArsdale. There, the SJC found that the opportunity for the alimony recipient to seek deviation or in 740 to show “good cause” to continue alimony ensures protection of the recipient’s rights and the constitutionality of the proposed legislation.

    Public policy legislation is often enacted in response to judicial decisions. I ask you to remember that the ARA was endorsed by both the MBA and BBA. 740 was the result of a process involving representatives from those and other representative groups and legislators. The proposed legislation of 740 was the result of a thoughtful, debated, and analyzed process with public hearings now having been held in the last two legislative sessions. It is purposeful, appropriate and necessary.

    This important legislation is not ”chaff “ as you have chosen to mischaracterize it. It is not something to be thrown away. It is not something of little consequence or significance. It is something to be promoted, put forward and treated with the seriousness it, along with the citizens of the Commonwealth, deserves. I would encourage you to reconsider your determination not to address 740 and would be willing to meet with you to discuss personally and in more depth, if necessary, the important issues associated with this proposed legislation.

    Very truly yours,

    David H. Lee


    May 19, 2017


    Representative James M. Cantwell (
    Representative Claire D. Cronin (
    Senator William N. Brownsberger (

    Dear Representatives Cantwell, Cronin and Senator Brownsberger:

    Thank you very much for the opportunity to appear before you on May 15th in support of House Bill 740.

    As I indicated to you at the hearing, I was the Co-Chairman of the Mass. Bar Association/Boston Bar Association Committee on Alimony Reform and the Legislative Task Force leading up to the Alimony Reform Act legislation of 2011.

    I also served on the Legislative Task Force following the SJC decisions of Doktor, Chin and Rodman in assisting and drafting the House Bill 740 which had unanimous support from that Task Force.

    House Bill 740 is a critical piece of legislation.

    1. It does not change the definition of alimony.
    2. It does not strip seniors of alimony.
    3. It does not change the effect of binding agreements entered into between parties to divorce prior to 2012 and, in fact, the legislation specifically reinforces the binding impact of those agreements.
    4. Its purpose is not to nullify the SJC decisions, but is to fulfill a role of the legislature and the balance of powers in our democracy for the legislature to make law.
    5. It does not make new law; it merely clarifies enacted law following judicial interpretation which is inconsistent with the intention of the legislative enactment.

    Since the enactment of this law in 2012 there have been at least ten cases addressed by the SJC dealing with this alimony legislation. In each of those cases the SJC is interpreting the legislature’s work. There are cases, as well, where the Appeals Court is doing the same thing. The legislature here has the opportunity through House Bill 740 to enact legislation clarifying its intention rather than having its intention be subject to judicial interpretation which may be inconsistent with the purpose and intent of the Alimony Reform Act.

    One of the issues addressed by the SJC in its trilogy of decisions (Doktor, Rodman and Chin) was the use of the term “prospectively” in the statute enacted. They interpreted that to mean that it would not apply to any divorce judgments which predated the enactment of the statute. This interpretation gave little, if any, significance to Sections 5 and 6 of the Act which clearly contemplated its application to pre-March 2012 divorce judgments. The SJC seemed to disregard the fact that the use of the term “prospective” spoke of application to future modification proceedings which were required by the Statute for pre-2012 judgments to effect a modification of a prior judgment. The ARA specifically identified that any relief which was being sought regarding pre-2012 divorce judgments could only be sought through a modification action which is a prospective proceeding. It was not intended that the ARA have retroactive effect in permitting somebody who had paid alimony, for example, in 2007 while his wife was cohabiting to go back and seek repayment for that period of time, nor for somebody who reached the age of retirement under the Social Security Act in 2009, for example, to go back and recover all the alimony paid between the time of reaching that age and the enactment of the ARA. That is a far cry from the SJC’s determination that the word “prospective” meant that the Act was only applicable to judgments of divorce entered following enactment.

    There seems to be misconception on the part of those who oppose House Bill 740 that everything will happen automatically with respect to the laws of alimony for divorce judgments which pre-dated enactment in 2012. House Bill 740, to the contrary, reaffirms that relief must be sought by the alimony payor to modify the existing alimony judgment:

    1. That is so with respect to the durational alimony limitation provisions (which have already been approved as being applicable to existing divorce judgments by the SJC).
    2. It is so with respect to seeking modification of alimony in the event of the recipient’s cohabitation – the burden of proof of which is on the payor spouse.
    3. It is so with respect to seeking modification of alimony based on retirement age where the payor spouse must proceed with an action of modification in order to obtain relief.

    So nothing happens automatically.

    With respect to all three of those circumstances the bringing of an action for modification provides no automatic relief:

    1. Regarding durational limits, there is discretion in the court to deviate under the ARA and under House Bill 740.
    2. Regarding cohabitation, upon the payor proving cohabitation of the recipient spouse under the statutory definition, the court shall terminate, suspend or reduce then existing alimony, but which remedy is selected and to what extent applied is within the discretion of the court subject to the factual circumstances proven by the recipient.
    3. Regarding payor reaching retirement age, a possible relief of termination of alimony is still subject to the alimony being extended for the recipient upon good cause being shown by the recipient.

    Essentially what the Bill does is shift the burden of proof from the payor to the recipient upon certain public policy statutory provisions occurring with the recipient having the opportunity to evidence bases by which alimony should be continued.

    While it is understood that some may be concerned about the loss of alimony on which they have relied, one of the main purposes of the alimony reform legislation was to give recognition to the fact that payors are also concerned about the impact on their lives of indefinite continuation of alimony obligations.

    The benefit of House Bill 740 is that it gives the opportunity for the payors to seek relief without certainty of getting it, and the opportunity for the recipients of alimony faced with such a request by a payor to bring to the court bases for the alimony to be continued. Both of these opportunities strike a fair balance of interests. Critical, as well, is the discretion of the family court judge, which is so important in dealing with individual cases. The court’s discretion in HB 740 is preserved retaining the ability to deviate, to limit the impact and to extend, for good cause shown, in the respective modification bases in arriving at an appropriate resolution based on the circumstances of each case.

    Another seemingly obvious need for House Bill 740 flows from the following situation. The SJC’s interpretation of the ARA in determining that the Act does not apply to pre-enactment divorce judgments with respect to the cohabitation provision creates effectively two classes of people in the Commonwealth regarding that issue. One class of people who are divorced before 2012 who might engage in cohabitation after 2012 but be protected from the impact of that on alimony; and another class who were divorced after 2012 but whose alimony obligations are impacted upon by cohabitation. Both groups were aware in 2012 of the public policy established in the 2012 ARA enactment for cohabitation to impact alimony, yet one group is impacted upon differently from the other group without logical basis or compelling reason. Giving grandfathered protection to one class of people under those circumstances merely because of the date of divorce does not seem logical or supportable.

    As indicated earlier, binding surviving agreements reached by the parties in connection with their pre-enactment divorce judgments which affirmed the intention of the parties not to be subject to modification will be protected and enforced. Judicial determinations and stipulations or agreements which were subject to future modification by reason of not having been contractually binding (surviving the court’s judgment) cannot be said to have been agreements on which the parties relied never to be changed in the future based on changed circumstances or future changes in the law.

    The enactment of House Bill 740 will clarify the legislative intent of the alimony legislation rather than leaving it to judicial interpretation. I respectfully recommend to the Committee that you report favorably on House Bill 740.

    Very truly yours,

    David H. Lee


      1. Thank you Attorney Lee for sharing a learned opinion here, we who support ARA are grateful, and can only hope that Senator Brownsberger might reconsider his unilateral decision to leave all of us divorced prior to 2011 in the failed system that he once voted to amend. I cannot fathom how a single individual can derail an issue that’s a clear and simple as this one, or if HR740 is flawed how he can’t submit a revised Bill or trust his peers to vote on it.

    1. It is important to remember that all of the arguments Mr. Lee makes here were presented to the SJC by 3 very capable attorneys and were rejected without dissent. The court based its decisions on 2 key passages in the Alimony Reform Act (ARA):

      “Section 49 of chapter 208 of the General Laws [which contains the provisions on cohabitation and retirement] shall apply prospectively, such that alimony judgments entered before March 1, 2012 shall terminate only under such judgments, under a subsequent modification or as otherwise provided for in this act.”

      “Sections 48 to 55, inclusive, of said chapter 208 shall not be deemed a material change of circumstance that warrants modification of the amount of existing alimony judgments; provided, however, that existing alimony judgments that exceed the durational limits under section 49 of said chapter 208 shall be deemed a material change of circumstance that warrant modification.”

      Mr. Lee argues the intention of the first passage is twofold: first, to prevent the provisions of section 49 from being applied automatically, and second, to disallow reimbursement for alimony received prior to the passage of the law.

      As to the first point, given that the ARA explicitly requires a modification hearing for all provisions in section 49, it is difficult to understand why language barring automatic application of these provisions to existing agreements is necessary. As to the second, it is both unclear where this is actually stated, or, if necessary, why it was not stated more directly. The SJC interpreted this section more expansively to mean that the provisions of section 49 do not apply to existing agreements.

      Mr. Lee does not address the second passage at all, but the SJC concluded that it bolsters their interpretation of the first passage: none of the provisions of the ARA can be used as the basis for modifying an existing agreement, except for the durational limits (which explains the mystery of why they are treated differently).

      Mr. Lee argues that sections 5 and 6 of the ARA provide further support for his position that the law was intended to apply to existing agreements, since they lay out a schedule for when modifications to those agreements can take place. But what he fails to mention is that these sections deal exclusively with the durational limits, which do apply to existing agreements.

      When arguing in favor of HB 740, Mr. Lee states that alimony recipients would not have negotiated different agreements had they known there been different rules in place concerning cohabitation and retirement. But these issues are exactly what are negotiated, and many agreements explicitly include provisions about retirement and cohabitation, or, conversely, are explicitly not included in favor of other terms.

      Senator Brownsberger has reached the very reasonable conclusion that the Alimony Reform Act as interpreted by the SJC provides new and important protections for payors, while also protecting alimony recipients from long-term marriages from revisiting old agreements based on new rules they could not possibly have anticipated.

  57. Senator,
    What harm are you speaking of? Someone might have to hire a lawyer to tell the court why they should continue receiving alimony while co-habitating when they have no need to receive alimony? Or, that they should be able to retire but the payee should not? Are you serious?

  58. Dear Senator Brownsberger, Although I respect your opinion, I disagree with it, and to be perfectly honest, I am appalled by your comment calling H 740 “chaff”. I cannot understand why you think it’s appropriate to be the judge and jury of this important piece of legislation. I believe it is your duty to put this bill to the floor for a vote.
    I respectfully request that you read all of the comments here. Each of them eloquently describe why the original alimony reform act was intended to apply to all divorces cases, not just those after the law was enacted. Based on your comments, I’m sure you will not change your position on this important matter. However,the fact that this should be voted on by the Legislature has been made very clear by all, and frankly even you know it is the right thing to do. Therefore, I urge you Senator to “Do the right thing” and let the people decide, not yourself!!

  59. Dear Senator Brownsberger,
    In my case like in many other cases my ex-wife has been engaged to her fiancé for 7 years. The sole reason they do not get married is to milk me of my earnings.
    I re-married and allowed my wife’s ex-husband to continue his life without milking him of his earnings.
    At this point you might be saying “Why did you do that stupid”. Well I did it because it is the right thing to do.
    Your thoughts and vote on this matter allows people like my ex to abuse the system.
    I surely hope you give this issue a second thought.
    Sincerely ED

  60. Anything more than transitional alimony is blatantly unfair to the party paying. It fosters economic dependency and does not allow the exes to move on. Some judgments are totally unfair and need to be changed. The 2011 law was supposed to correct the abuses by many receivers of alimony but there is too much leeway for judges. A person(usually a man) should not have pay until he is old and retired when his ex is living with a wealthy man. She is highly educated and totally capable of supporting herself. She got 1/2 of my assets my house and 5000/mo plus health insurance while she lived with a wealthy businessman. Why is this allowed to happen?

  61. Dear Senator Brownsberger,
    I am truly disappointed that you personally felt the need to squash the HB740 bill. I understand that there will always be circumstances that might warrant alimony but I believe with this bill the courts would be able to litigate a fair dollar amount. But by not allowing this bill to be voted on there would be no bargaining so to speak. My husband was married to his first wife 21 yrs. I have been married to him for 20 yrs. In his divorce agreement he paid more than the amount by the guidelines for child support. You probably asking yourself why would he do this. He loved his children and wanted to do right by them. At the time he had a small amount that was alimony and the larger amount was for child support. He supported his children through college. They are now 30yrs and 38 yrs. old. When it came time to go to court to stop child support we found out that his ex-wife wanted to have the dollar amount that was child support now alimony. We were able to litigate the dollar amount down. I know in my heart she felt that she was going to be taken care of for the rest of her life, a kind of “entitlement. I also was an ex and even if I didn’t marry this wonderful man, I would not of taken alimony from my first husband. I just feel it creates a lot of ill feelings. Like I stated earlier I do realize there will be underlining circumstances. Please allow this bill to move forward. Thank you for your time.

  62. Dear Senator Brownsberger,
    Following Attorney David Lee’s email to you, and his post on this website explaining what HB 740 really is, I am hoping you will reconsider your decision and bring HB 740 up for a vote.

    If you choose to stay on your current course:
    When it comes time for your re-election I will be doing everything in my power to ensure that your competition takes your seat. As you can tell by reading the comments here, there will be a very large number of people working beside me to unseat you. Your decision effects thousands of people. The last thing you want is all of us stumping for your competitor in the next election cycle.

    Rest assured that the people posting on this website are not going to let this go. We write a check every week reminding us of this injustice. This group is very well organized and well prepared to do whatever it takes to fix this problem.

    Hoping you do the right thing for your career and for those of us who have been treated very unfairly by outdated and antiquated MA divorce law.

    If you make the right choice you’ll have this large team stumping for you in the next election cycle.


  63. Senator Brownsberger,
    If you have any wonder as to why the general electorate has such a low opinion of politicians, you need not look to the shenanigans in Washington but simply at your insipid and insensitive characterization of HB 740 as “chaff”. This is further compounded by your casually inaccurate portrayal of the critical elements contained in this bill. Clearly, you’ve totally bought into the new world of “alternate facts”. Do you honestly think any serious minded person finds your position anything other than laughable? Here’s a suggestion – do the job we pay you for and focus on legislation that actually improves fairness and the day-to-day lives of the people of the Commonwealth (like HB 740). If you fail to do so, I will enjoy making a generous contribution to your opponent in your next election bid.

  64. Dear Senator Browsberger,

    You said in your post, and I quote “The purposes of the 2011 reforms were to set clearer guidelines to reduce disputes and to disfavor long term economic dependency. The reforms were broadly supported and I voted for them.”
    As H740 is a “correction” to the original ARA ( which you supported..! ) and addresses SJC misconstrued interpretation of the original legislative intent I cannot understand your reluctance to support this bill and let it have its’ due process.
    Please do the right thing for the people of the commonwealth and let H740 move forward.

  65. Please bring 740 to a vote. this is the UNITED STATES….. NO ONE DESERVES TO RIDE FOR FREE . THAT IS WHAT ALIMONY IS.


  66. Dear Senator Browsberger, I’m coming up on my 20th anniversary of paying alimony every week. For 18 of those 20 years, my ex-wife has lived with the same man unmarried. Four years into our divorce my ex-wife signed over full legal and physical custody of our two daughters which I and my 2nd wife raised, sent off to college, married and now welcome two grandchildren to the family. We struggled to make this all happen; all the while my wife and I sent alimony checks every week to my ex and her 45 now 65 -year-old “boyfriend” Your absolutely right in that our original divorce contemplated asset distribution, child support & alimony, but it’s naive to assume who may be wronged. I understand why you think as you do; it’s akin to profiling… I’ve seen this prejudice before; as my own attorney once said to me and I quote “Mike, your girls will never consider your home their home”. This from someone I respected and paid to represent me. It wasn’t her fault, it’s an ingrained systemic prejudice. She was wrong, and I believe your position is wrong too. I ask you to resist the shortcut to profile divorced people and allow this issue come to a vote. To do otherwise leaves many of us without hope.

  67. Sorry that you feel that this bill is CHAFF as you put it. You clearly have never been divorced or are stuck paying alimony forever or if you are, you have the financial means (now) to do so. This bill is NOT what you think it is, it is what “we the people” feel is injustices and having to pay forever. Divorce should be about ending a relationship and agreements with one another, not to keep it perpetually alive.
    I was married for almost 18 years and have been paying Alimony to the tune of over $30k a year. My Ex? She’s retired and in her mid-70’s and I haven’t reached 58 yet. So lucky me, I have to give her the house, the car, pay for medical and dental as well as alimony for ever? It’s been 13 years and at this rate I’ll never be able to retire because I have to pay for her retirement??? Tell me how this is fair or CHAFF that the bill doesn’t warrant the time to have it voted on?
    I’m married and have a disabled spouse, disabled adult child to care for, living in another state and I can’t get the alimony stopped because you want to block it? 13 years is enough time to get a job and become financially independent so as to not rely on medical, dental and alimony. It should be term based and that’s it – period! Please do your job and help end this archaic old law and help those payors plan for their own retirements and not pay for their ex-spouses! That’s just wrong.

    1. plus she sold the house that I put all the money in and I never saw a dime of it and made 3 times what it was 10 years ago. So who needs to be paying what in this case? This bill needs to be heard, voted on and PASSED!! Enough with the politics on it, it is quite simple. There will be hardships on both sides, but more so for the payor than the recipient especially when we have our own financial responsibilities of our own new families. Top it off, I’m a disabled vet – where is the support for me???

    2. Under the current Alimony Reform act, if you were married for 18 years, you are not obligated to pay alimony for more than 14.4 years (80% of 18), and this rule (the durational limits) does apply retroactively. So you should be able to file a complaint for a modification shortly. Additionally, if your financial circumstances change such that it becomes difficult to maintain your alimony obligation, you always have the right to file a complaint for a modification on that basis.

  68. Thank you, Senator Brownsberger, for keeping this difficult conversation open. I have a suggestion that may help reframe the discussion in a constructive way. How about changing the heading of this page of postings from “Retroactive application of new alimony rules” to something like “Equitable application of new alimony rules”? The code word “retroactive,” which biases the discussion even before it starts, is plainly inaccurate, for reasons carefully explained by attorney David Lee in his earlier comment (below) and by attorney Kimberley Keyes in the following article (where she put quotes around “retroactivity” in the title):

    As I understand what attorneys Lee and Keyes have written, the proposed application of the retirement and cohabitation provisions of the Alimony Reform Act to pre-2012 divorces is not really retroactive for two main reasons. First, it does not call for the return of alimony payments already made. Second, it does not dictate automatic termination or modification of previously adjudicated alimony arrangements. Rather, it creates a rebuttable (based on the recipient’s need) presumption of termination or modification that allows case-by-case resolution by current standards applied fairly to all cases. For these reasons, the SJC has ruled that other provisions of the Reform Act that do apply to pre-2012 divorces are constitutionally permissible.

    Meanwhile, Gregg’s challenge to Sen. Brownsberger to answer David Lee’s detailed explication of the legal and public-policy issues remains unanswered. Passing it off to Jack Allen doesn’t cut it. Mr. Allen correctly notes that the durational limits on alimony for marriages that lasted less than 20 years, which do apply to pre-2012 divorces, can provide a solution for some alimony payers. But his claiming that you can simply file for modification if your financial condition worsens disregards the all too painful Catch-22 that people I know face (I am not divorced). Practically speaking, under the current (pre-reform) law, one can apply for modification with reasonable expectation of success only after having retired from one’s job or business. And at the age of 66 or over, once one has given up one’s income, one can hardly expect to reclaim that income should the court rule adversely. Thus, barring death or disability, the status quo grants absolute power to an alimony recipient who, irrespective of need, refuses to allow an ex-spouse to plan for retirement.

    I commend those who look to the electoral process for rectification of the abuse of power by which this needed legislation has to date been scuttled. By all means we will not give up our efforts to gain justice. But since Sen. Brownsberger and Sen. Cynthia Creem, who we know is the main force behind this arbitrary, undemocratic action, are almost surely safe in their Senate seats, we must look at the larger political picture. In the first place, although Sen. Creem’s becoming Senate Majority Leader would seem to be a setback for our efforts, her accession to this highly visible position raises the ante on her actions by exposing those actions to greater public scrutiny. Now she is responsible for representing the will of the majority rather than just her personal opinion as a divorce lawyer. I hope her constituents and others will miss no opportunity to remind her of this responsibility, as well as to use any contacts with journalists and the media to bring to public attention her (thus far) intransigent opposition to needed reform.

    Second, as a lifelong Democrat who voted (in 2014, not 2010) for Governor Charlie Baker, I am as alert to the danger of one-party rule on Beacon Hill as in Washington. Against such arbitrary rule, proponents of House 740 would do well to support Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr in his ongoing efforts to get the bill out of committee. Sen. Tarr’s Republican caucus is very small. But the more people get behind him, the more willing and able he may be to try to involve Gov. Baker in challenging Sen. Creem’s stranglehold on this legislation.

    When a complacent majority thinks itself too big and powerful to be held accountable, voters need to shake that complacency. As a tactical move, if House 740 is not properly acted on this year, I recommend voting to elect pro-alimony reform Republicans wherever that choice exists. In what promises to be a big Democratic year (for good reasons, in national terms), any underperformance by Massachusetts Senate Democrats will reflect badly on the Majority Leader, which may lead more people to look into this abuse of power on her part. This effect will be magnified if even one Senate seat can be flipped to Republican.

    Finally, a new Senate President will be elected at the beginning of next year. Let your Democratic Senators know you want a pro-alimony reform Senate President who will not permit any more inaction on this legislation. Our rallying cry can be “Who’s [not] afraid of Cynthia Creem?”

    1. I think it’s clear that the right legal term is “retroactive”. That’s what the SJC thought. There are high end lawyers on both sides of the question and I respect all of them and am honored that they would take the time to engage in discussion here.

  69. I’m a payor of alimony under the antiquated law. (Before 2011). My ex wife cohabitates with a Boston local103 union electrician. They bought his and hers Harley Davidson motorcycles and go on vacations while my children go without. I give up between $1300-1950! A month. You have no right to sit on a bill that passed the House unanimously twice while I wait for justice. I’m notifying the head of our union and other brother unions to remember your commuter in the next election. Good day.

  70. After reading all these points it becomes painfully obvious that these senators do not care at all about your plight or your situation or your children. They are above all that.The only remedy is to vote them out of office. Follow their careers and help their opponents. I belong to a large federal union in which the union president himself has gone through a messy divorce. We will be organizing union membership to vote these people out and suggest you do the same

  71. I’ve been advising people not to get married in Massachusetts. I would advise the alimonyreform .org and other interested parties to contact the hotels wedding planners etc. that their services are no longer required. Young people today are tending not to get married. There is absolutely no advantage to marriage today, unless you like paying entitlement alimony to a relationship long over. I urge everyone to start hitting this whole messed up system in the pocketbook . Vote these politicians out and don’t let your children get married in Massachusetts . If you’re fortunate enough to belong to a labor union, use your union brothers and sisters to spread the word and vote these politicians out . Democratic politicians don’t always act democratically. Senators Brownsberger and Creen are clear cut examples of this. Vote them out!

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