Current selections of the appellate court docket to make clear the everlasting upkeep limits: Half 1 | Burns & Levinson LLP

On Friday, October 16, 2020, the appeals court issued two unpublished decisions that further defined and refined the permanent maintenance limits in Massachusetts under the 2012 Maintenance Reform Act: Clement v Owens-Clement and Clemence v Sklenak. In this blog post, I’ll be addressing the first point – Clement v Owens-Clement – which dealt with the question of whether a court has the legal authority to grant a derogation from the time limits on an amendment complaint that has been filed, after the presumed time restrictions have already expired.

In the Clement case, the parties divorced after six years of marriage. In their separation agreement, both parties waived the right to maintenance in the past and present, but left open the possibility of applying for maintenance in the future. About four and a half years after the divorce and over a year after the alleged maintenance limits under the Maintenance Reform Act expired, the woman filed an amendment appeal to seek maintenance from the husband due to her total disability and inability to support you. The woman had surgery to remove a large brain tumor, continued to suffer from seizure disorders, facial nerve damage, and hearing loss, and her doctors determined that she was and will be permanently disabled. She had been unable to work due to these serious medical problems for over a year before filing the complaint for change. After the trial, the trial judge ordered that a deviation from the duration limit was necessary and ordered the husband to pay the wife maintenance. The husband argued before the appellate court that the trial judge had misused her discretion by deviating from the permanent limits of the Maintenance Reform Act.

According to Section 49 (b) of the Maintenance Reform Act:

Unless the court establishes in writing that, in the interests of justice, a deviation beyond the deadlines in this section is required, the maintenance period for the duration of the marriage ends at one of the following limits at the latest:

(1) If the duration of the marriage is a maximum of 5 years, the maintenance period does not exceed half the number of months of the marriage.

(2) If the duration of the marriage is 10 years or less, but more than 5 years, the maintenance period is no longer than 60 percent of the number of months of the marriage.

(3) If the duration of the marriage is 15 years or less, but more than 10 years, the general maintenance payment does not last longer than 70 percent of the number of months of the marriage.

(4) If the duration of the marriage is 20 years or less, but more than 15 years, the maintenance payment remains in effect for a maximum of 80 percent of the number of months of the marriage.

MGL Chapter 208 Section 49 (b).

In this case, the presumed duration of the maintenance payments forty-two months (60% of their seventy-one month marriage). The woman did not file her complaint until fifty-five months after the marriage – thirteen months after the alleged deadline. The husband argued that unless a child support allowance is extended prior to his anticipated termination date under Section 49 (b), the law ends and there is no longer an “existing” child support allowance for the judge to be extended. The appeals court disagreed.

The appeals court ruled that neither Section 49 nor Section 37 (which was not amended by the Maintenance Reform Act) of MGL Chapter 208 impose a time limit on a judge’s power to change the duration of a prior maintenance allowance. In the Clement case, the “livelihood” was the parties ‘separation agreement that resolved the parties’ financial affairs by essentially providing for a zero dollar alimony. The Court found that “neither in the codified nor in the uncodified sections of the [Alimony Reform A]ct that the legislature intended that such already existing awards are automatically terminated by law just because they have already exceeded the assumed duration. “The Court found that the legislature did not intend to prohibit a judge from deviating from the presumed duration limits simply because a complaint was filed after the presumed duration limits had expired. In this respect, there was no abuse of discretion by the trial judge, who received the maintenance allowance for the woman’s complaint about the change after the deadline. The court found that the period between the alleged termination date and the wife’s complaint was minimal, the wife only applied for maintenance from the husband after her modest fortune was exhausted, and the husband was not prejudiced in the short delay. The woman proved that the departure from the permanent limits was “in the interests of justice” as she was completely disabled due to severe, persistent health problems and was currently unable to meet her own needs.

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