Lawyers Journal

HOD approves Joint Alimony Task Force report

 

A report of the Massachusetts Bar Association's Joint Alimony Task Force, which will serve as the first draft of guidelines to set consistent and predictable alimony amounts and timelines, was approved by the House of Delegates at its May 21 meeting.

"This issue of alimony is difficult. It is an emotionally charged issue," said MBA Treasurer Denise Squillante, who is a member of the task force and a family law practitioner. "Case law is mixed and conflicted. There is no cap, no term limit, no consistent approach."

The report was one of three measures the body unanimously approved during MBA President Edward W. McIntyre's last HOD meeting, which was held at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. HOD also supported:

• A report of the Drug Policy Task Force that suggests placing drug offenders in drug treatment programs rather than jail, resulting in the savings of tax dollars (see article on page 1); and

• An American Bar Association resolution urging Congress to repeal a portion of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that prevents the federal government from recognizing any same-sex marriage, even if it occurred in a state that has legalized same-sex marriage.

The Joint Alimony Task Force, which began its work two years ago, has outlined in the seven-page report how to set standards for alimony in Massachusetts in certain divorce cases. What the report does not address is alimony in particular marriages, including those with dependent children, mentally or physically handicapped spouses, and spouses who lack marketable skills for a specific reason, including spousal abuse.

Recommendations include setting caps on the amount of alimony based on income, as well as classifying alimony as either reimbursement, rehabilitative, transitional or security. In addition, the report suggests linking length of alimony to the length of the marriage, with marriages up to five years requiring alimony for 50 percent of the length of the marriage, and marriages of more than 20 years requiring indefinite alimony.

Before the report was approved, HOD members engaged in intense discussion of the report's specific recommendations. Squillante was quick to point out that the report is a working draft she expects will be altered as it moves forward. "This is not a mandate," she added.

Fern Frolin, a former Family Law Section chair and the Norfolk County delegate, said the actual recommendations are not important. "Whether or not the specific criteria is perfect or very good is not the point," Frolin said. "Something needs to get done."

Family Law Section Council Co-Chairs Veronica J. Fenton and Thomas J. Barbar presented HOD with the ABA resolution that asks Congress to repeal a portion of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act to give power back to states in regards to same-sex marriage. Under the current act, same-sex couples cannot file joint federal tax returns or get the same benefits as other couples. The MBA's Individual Rights & Responsibilities Section had already voted to support the resolution.

"This really is unprecedented for the federal government to reach into the province of the state," Fenton said. "We'd like to see it go away."

In addition, at a special House of Delegates meeting held on July 15, the MBA selected three members to serve as delegates to the ABA.

Catherine E. Reuben was appointed as an MBA delegate, joining Paul W. Lee and Richard C. Van Nostrand, who were reappointed. All three will serve two-year terms that expire in August 2011.

A report of the Massachusetts Bar Association's Joint Alimony Task Force, which will serve as the first draft of guidelines to set consistent and predictable alimony amounts and timelines, was unanimously approved by the House of Delegates at its May 21 meeting.

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