With Time Running Out, Alimony Reform Advocates Face Desperation in MA Senate

Massachusetts divorce lawyer Jason V. Owens writes on Sen. William Brownsberger’s efforts to block bill to end lifetime alimony.

Time is running out for alimony reform. Sen. William Brownsberger (D-Middlesex), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, continues to refuse to allow a vote on a bill that would eliminate lifetime alimony for Massachusetts divorcees whose marriage ended before March 1, 2012. Brownsberger has never publicly commented on why he opposes the alimony reform bill, which passed the Massachusetts in a unanimous 156-0 vote in 2016.

Stephen K. Hitner, President of Massachusetts Alimony Reform, sent out an email to supporters today that described the situation in dire terms:

The Senate Chair (Senator Will Brownsberger), of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, is still on the fence as to whether or not he will give his support to moving H 740 out of his committee for a House and Senate vote. H 740, must be moved forward with a favorable recommendation by Feb. 9, 2018 or it will essentially be dead. If the bill is not acted on, it will most probably take another TWO YEARS of activism to get a NEW BILL to the point that it is now.

To make matters worse, there are small groups of opponents to H 740 working very hard to make themselves heard. From what I am told, the Members of the House understand H 740, and the need for it's passage.

However, there are Members of the Senate who are more sympathetic to a few screaming voices than the plight of the many who will never have the ability to retire if H 740 is not passed.

Alimony Reform: Ending Lifetime Alimony for Older Divorces

As we have covered in many previous blogs, the alimony reform effort arose out of three controversial 2015 decisions by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), which drastically altered the widely accepted interpretation of the state’s alimony the law. Under the 2011 alimony statute, alimony terminates when the paying spouse reaches federal retirement age. The law also provides that alimony will be reduced or terminated if an alimony recipient remarries or begins cohabitating with a new romantic partner.

In 2015, the SJC held that the retirement and cohabitation provisions of the statute only applied to parties who were divorced after the 2012 effective date of the alimony law. The 2015 decisions were a dramatic break from the widely accepted view – among attorneys and Probate and Family Court judges alike – that the retirement and cohabitation provisions applied to all Massachusetts alimony orders, regardless of the date of divorce.

The bill that Brownsberger is blocking would amend the law to make the retirement and cohabitation provisions apply to all divorces.

Alimony Re-Reform: Stonewalled in the Senate

Following the SJC’s 2015 decisions, a series of bills were proposed to amend Massachusetts law to apply equally to all divorces. These bills, which became known as the Alimony Re-Reform Act (ARRA), got off to a promising start. In the summer of 2016, the bill passed the Massachusetts House in a unanimous 156-0 vote. The victory was short lived, however, as the bill was soon smothered in the Senate.

In 2017, the bill again languished in Brownsberger’s Judiciary Committee, despite endorsements from the Boston Globe and elsewhere. This fall, Brownsberger told alimony reform supporters that the Committee would focus on the bill after completing criminal justice reform. With criminal justice reform now complete, however, Brownsberger still hasn’t budged.

Lynch & Owens

Time Running Out for Reform Efforts?

As Brownsberger’s intransigence has become more apparent, the grim desperation of reform advocates has increased. Alimony Reform President Hitner, writing to supporters on January 9, 2018, described the impasse in dark terms:

The Senate Chair (Senator Will Brownsberger), of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, is still on the fence as to whether or not he will give his support to moving H 740 out of his committee for a House and Senate vote. H 740, must be moved forward with a favorable recommendation by Feb. 9, 2018 or it will essentially be dead. If the bill is not acted on, it will most probably take another TWO YEARS of activism to get a NEW BILL to the point that it is now.

Ten days later, Hitner’s email reflected growing anxiety:

At the current time, it seems like the Mass Legislature is a huge mountain and we are tiny ants trying to move it. I can tell you that I feel your frustration, especially when the people who can make this happen keep on making excuses as to why H 740 is stalled in the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. I have been here before and the excuses we are hearing is just a way to stall action to move H 740 forward.

February 9th Deadline Could Mark the End for Alimony Reform Efforts

The deadline for Brownsberger to allow a vote on the bill is February 9, 2018. If the bill does not exit the Committee by that date, it will likely die in committee, making lifetime alimony a permanent reality in Massachusetts.

About the Author: Jason V. Owens is a Massachusetts divorce lawyer and Massachusetts family law attorney for Lynch & Owens, located in Hingham, Massachusetts.

UPDATE (2/2/18): Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr Presses Brownsberger for Vote

We hear that Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-First Essex and Middlesex) reached out to Senator Brownsberger this week urging a vote on the alimony bill.Tarr is also asking voters to contact members of the Judiciary Committee to urge a vote, including the following senators and reps on the Committee:

Senators on Judiciary Committee

House Members on Judiciary Committee

Try the Lynch & Owens Massachusetts Alimony Calculator

Think you have an alimony case in Massachusetts? Estimate the amount and duration of alimony in your case with the Lynch & Owens Massachusetts Alimony Calculator:

About the Author: Jason V. Owens is a Massachusetts divorce lawyer and Massachusetts family law attorney for Lynch & Owens, located in Hingham, Massachusetts.

Schedule a free consultation with Jason V. Owens today at (781) 253-2049or send him an email.

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