Barbara J. Katzenberg, Attorney at Law
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Stay-at-home same-sex spouse has questions about alimony

A partner in a same-sex couple who is considering divorce recently asked a question about alimony. She wanted to know whether she would be eligible, and if she was, for how long would she receive alimony from her spouse. Same-sex couples in Massachusetts may be interested in the answer. She stated that, because of the special needs of their youngest child, she had only worked part-time in order to homeschool the child.

Since The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional, there is no longer differentiation between alimony laws for same-sex and heterosexual couples. The courts typically determine alimony by the number of years the marriage lasted; however, many same-sex couples were living together in domestic partnerships before same-sex marriage was legalized. If a spouse in a same-sex marriage can prove that they were living together as a couple prior to legally getting married, those years may be taken into consideration in the court’s ruling.

If the couple had children together during their domestic partnership before marriage, the court might use the birth date of the first child as a starting date. If, however, the court is not convinced of the relationship before the marriage, they may allow the alimony to last for only 70 percent of the time the legal marriage lasted. The court aims to discourage the perception that alimony payments will continue for an unlimited time.

The individual in question may want to maintain her part-time position and even attempt to increase work hours. This may be beneficial when the child completes homeschooling. Although earning more may reduce the amount of alimony received, it may provide more financial security in the long term. Massachusetts couples who fail to reach an alimony agreement to suit both parties may wish to acquire the services of a mediator, who could lead the couple through communication and compromise to an amicable arrangement.

Source: Boston Herald, "Wife entitled to alimony in same-sex divorce", Gerald Nissenbaum, June 15, 2014

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