Saturday, September 26, 2009

Of Two Alimony Reform Bills, House Bill is Far Better

There are two competing alimony reform bills currently pending in the Massachusetts legislature: Senate Bill 1616 and House Bill 1785. The Senate bill, backed by influential members of the Boston Bar Association, essentially would preserve the status quo. It would merely add language to the statute so as to give judges the explicit ability to set a duration for alimony - i.e. to set a term of years, depending on the circumstances.

The Senate bill would indeed improve current alimony law in this limited way. But it would do far too little. In fact, the Senate bill would not be sufficient to bring Massachusetts out of the realm of the absurd. Even with the passage of this modest single reform in the Senate bill, Massachusetts would remain way outside the reasonable norms for alimony, as reflected by the laws in almost every - if not every single other - state in this country.

The House bill, on the other hand, would effect real reform that would bring Massachusetts alimony law into much closer alignment with the alimony law of other states, as it more closely reflects current conventional wisdom on alimony. The House bill would require alimony awards to reflect current economic and social realities. Thus it would be much less likely that outrageous alimony awards, which lead to illogical and unfair economic results, would continue to be regularly negotiated and ordered in our family courts.

The House bill is much more intelligent, reasoned, and has the support of the Massachusetts Alimony Reform organization. However, unlike the Senate bill, which is now backed by the Boston Bar Association, the much more sensible House bill has a broad base of support beyond the most directly affected interest groups - that is, both those interest groups that have been formed by opponents of the current law, and associations of attorneys who would be more inclined to preserve the status quo. And that is why House Bill 1785 is already cosponsored by a very diverse group of 72 legislators, "liberal" as well as "conservative."

Please read both bills (see links above), and tell your House and Senate representatives which bill you favor. For more on this, see Bar association wades into divorce law spat - Boston Business Journal.


For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the divorce and family law page of my law firm website.

7 comments:

Tor Hershman said...

What God has joined together.....oh, that's right, there ain't any gods - carry on.

Jane said...

This is fascinating. I am so pleased that you're covering this, and that the people of Massachusetts may soon be free of the nightmare alimony laws that treat women like children and treat men like Sugar Daddies for Life, even if it drives them to bankruptcy and jail. it's very important for lawyers to weigh in on this, so that there is some counterweight to the Boston Bar Association. So thanks very much, Mr. Ballard!

Anonymous said...

Reprint of blog on Boston Business Journal website in response to Lisa Van der Pool's article 9/18/09
"BBA BACKS BILL TO CAP ALIMONY" Take note. Senate bill 1616 seeks to do one thing and one thing only. That is, to keep the power to control your life, determine your future, and keep you under the jurisdiction of the courts until they feel they are done with you. Family law is a masterful scam not unlike TV wrestling. The lawyers and judges put on a great act in their pretend roles. But, the truth is they all belong to the same organization and they will never act on their own to stifle their own power to run the scam. Any legislator who doesn't act to stop it is an accessory to organized judicial crime. The Bar by seeking to give judges the power to determine alimony duration, knows that 1616 will rely on the honor of "his honor" who in the past has proven that he has no honor in the family court ring. They are all winking at each other because they know how easy it has been to pull the wool over the public's eye in the past. But when it comes to family law, "the emperor has no clothes".

Steven Ballard said...

Anonymous- most posts like yours I do not allow here. Since you make an ad hominem attack on all lawyers and judges in the family law system, rather than upon any single individual, I have allowed it to be published here, but only because it is representative of the response of so many, who, while justified in being outraged, go over the top in their paranoia.

While there are very real biases and vested interests, family law is not a masterful scam or a criminal enterprise. People who are divorcing and fighting each other need to take responsibility for their own mistakes rather than simply blaming their lawyers and the system, and subscribing to inane, ridiculous conspiracy theories about lawyers and judges who are supposedly getting rich at their clients' expense.

Those who are in the legal system -especially including those within the most profitable, big law firms, firms which in fact do not even have family law sections, even as loss leaders, because they would be insufficiently lucrative -find comments such as yours to be laughable.

It's sad many people are so bitter that they actually believe this kind of conspiratorial crap. Many hate lawyers and judges so much that they can't even think straight, or examine basic facts.

One of those facts is that there are many very good people who work as divorce and family law practitioners and judges. Most of them in fact work very hard in a very difficult profession, dealing with very difficult people in contentious cases, and many of them also perform important pro bono work and public service in their communities, while generally earning modest incomes relative to others in the legal profession.

Change the law, improve the system, yes. But in your own individual cases, you should always take a good hard look in the mirror before assessing blame for problems in your own home.

gmshouki said...

I'm chiming in a little late but feel compelled to comment. An article about the 9/17 Judiciary Committe meeting commented on Frolin versus Hitner and S1616 versus HR1745. Frolin says that the Mass Bar was looking into the alimony reform issue long before it became a heated issue. And the Mass Bar supports S1616. How does adding duration and more judicial discretion improve the current situation in Massachusetts? While I agree not all matrimonial lawyers and judges should be indicted in a conspiracy but the fact remains that there are many told and untold stories that clearly show that alimony awards are not infrequently arbitrary and aim at punishing the wage earner and rewarding the recipient (often with huge awards for life). Judges not infrequently see men as owing their divorced spouse a compensation for a failed marriage regardless of who was responsible for the failure. Frolin indicated that the cookie cutter approach won't work. In all cases it may not, but HR1745 is a much better solution that S1616 which is a joke. Senator Creem, in my opinion, has no real interest in reform and S1616 is a joke. If you were at the 9/17 meeting you might have a different opinion about how the state legislature and the judiciary committee views reform based on how they ran the meeting. Having been there, the meeting was a disgrace to the concept of fair and equal representation. The majority of alimony reform proponents (MARS members) were give an opportunity to speak long after most of the committee had left (beginning at 7 PM) and were allowed to speak for 3 minutes. During the daytime portion of the committee meeting almost every other group was allowed to speak, often for more than 45 minutes. It may not be a conspiracy, but an element of collusion may have been present.

Justin L. Kelsey, Esq. said...

Your response to the anonymous comment is right on. The Massachusetts alimony reform debate should be about the best way to re-write the law to reduce litigation and improve the fairness of the law, not about individual cases.
Focusing on conspiracies as a way to attack one approach over the other loses site of the real debate.
It is my opinion that neither bill improves the law significantly and this same debate has been happening on our Family Law Blog. I think the only way to truly improve the law is to write a well structured clear statute that creates a formula (like the Child Support Guidelines) which allows for deviation depending on specified factors (like the Child Support Guidelines). This is the only way to truly create a fair and predictable system.

Joseph said...

I have been divorced 5 years. Though it was a no-fault divorce, my ex-wife was granted lifetime alimony. She owns the house she lives in, has installed central air-conditioning, all new windows, pays for landscaping service and grocery service, and has inherited money from her deceased father. I, on the other hand, lived in one-room of a boarding house in 2006-7, and have since lived in a 2-room basement apartment with a bathroom (living room, dining room, kitchen are all one room), and I have been losing over $1300 each month (it is as if I have been paying my employer rather than my employer paying me for my work these 5 years), so that I had to take out a loan from my retirement fund, as well as numerous other workarounds (loans, credit cards, etc.). Bill H1785 would be a God-send to me, and any other bill would not do. Let’s have some common sense in our alimony laws, so that alimony payments are stopped when they are no longer necessary. Joseph Galia, Ph.D.