Sen. Cynthia Creem may be Softening her Position Against Alimony Reform.
Creem has long been an opponent of Alimony Reform. When the current Alimony Reform bill (H1785) was introduced this year, Creem introduced a counter proposal S1616, sponsored by the various bar associations which would make a single two word change to the current law, and preserve current lack of guidelines. The lack of guidelines make Alimony notoriously contentious to litigate and expensive for both the State and litigants.
Sustained public pressure to pass meaningful reform convinced the Judiciary Committee chairs, Sen. Creem and Rep. O’Flaherty, that there was a need to have a substantive dialogue about the Alimony Reform issues. To their credit, the committee chairs convened a task force to study Alimony Reform composed of key stake holders, consisting of representatives from the Legislature, the Courts, the Bar associations and key Alimony Reform advocates.
The Task Force has met several times now and is making good progress reaching a consensus view on reasonable alimony guidelines which would bring Massachusetts badly outdated statute more inline with national standards. The task force meets again May 18th, in what everyone hopes will result in consensus recommendations.
Creem Speaks at Middlesex County Bar Association and Gives some Insight on Alimony Reform
On April 26, 2010, The Middlesex County Bar Association held a seminar on Alimony Reform at the Middlesex County Courthouse in Woburn, Massachusetts.
There were four speakers. The master of ceremonies was Cal Heinle, Esquire. The other speakers were Lloyd Godson, Esquire, President of the Middlesex County Bar Association, state Sen. Cynthia Creem, Esquire, and Martin Kane, Esquire. All of the speakers are attorneys who practice in the divorce area and in the Probate and Family Court.
Sen. Creem stated “alimony laws are destined to change.” She stated that as a divorce practitioner she has represented wives who are ordered to pay alimony many times. She has introduced a bill in the Legislature (S1616) which considers the issue of duration of alimony. However, she states that duration is not enough. She wishes to have the court consider the ability of the supporting party, the standard of living, but that retirement should end alimony. She made this statement as a practitioner, but not as a legislator. She said she understands issues that are created by cohabitation which would involve no income consideration and no second income consideration.Â Therefore, she has set up a task force with members of Bar associations the Chief Justice of Probate, and the President of MAR.Â She does believe that something needs to be done.
She then mentioned that there isÂ a bill in the Legislature introduced by a group that she called “Mass Alimony Reform Group” (H1785). This group says that duration of alimony is not enough. She said they are very active and that they also are joined by a “Second Wives Group.” Â This bill requires that the court consider the ability of the supporting party, the standard of living during the marriage and that retirement should end alimony completely. Sen. Creem’s bill only speaks of duration, but does not consider the factors that are in the bill of the Mass Alimony Reform Group. She warned that no one side will get everything. She said compromise is the only way a bill can get through. She suggested that all groups should get together and see if there is something in the middle. Sen. Creem’s view is that retirement with the right to end alimony at certain specific ages; such as, age 62.. 65… Or 66 might work. She labeled as is another consideration of transitional alimony. She agreed that her bill which contained the word “duration” was not specific enough. She hoped to see some change. Therefore, her task force would be a group that would accept input and recommendations, and that their findings would make Sen. Creem comfortable. She acknowledges that the Probate and Family Court are overworked. This has been a complaint of Chief Justice Carey, according to Sen. Creem. Sen. Creem indicated that a list of the members of the task force could be obtained by calling her office. She feels certain that the task force will make recommendations that will have big social value. She is hopeful that the task force will have a consensus. She believes that these who create guidelines that will include “self-support” is a big consideration. Sen.Â Creem concluded her remarks at this point.
The budget cuts have hurt the courts. It is understood that the courts are looking to save the parties time and expense. There was a discussion between attorney Godson and another attorney in the audience regarding the need for the self-employed to produce their tax returns in order to make a determination as to the appropriate payment of alimony. It was said that if you want alimony to end at retirement, it must be put into the agreement. This was not done in the Pierce case. If it had been done, the Pierce case would not exist. The statutory requirements regarding the division of assets and the other considerations at the time of the divorce, including a spouse’s conduct, cannot be re-heard 18 months after the divorce is final. Therefore, the terms of alimony are determined by a judge and not by statutory considerations. Attorney Godson stated that cases from courts outside of Massachusetts should be and have been used to support arguments regarding alimony. He suggested attorney’s should save the e-mails that are harmful to the opposing party. He also said that counsel for a party should know the judge. If you don’t know the judge consult with practitioners who practice in that court before that judge. Retirement considerations should be part of the original agreement. The judge will in some cases not consider retirement with regard to the alimony issue unless it is part of the written agreement.
Another Speaker Attorney, Heinle, made reference to several cases which appeared to affect most divorce attorneys, but the principle case was entitled “Pierce v. Pierce.” This case as about a divorce involving a retired judge. He wanted to reduce or eliminate his alimony payments to his ex-wife because of his retirement and because of his financial situation. His request for modification was denied and he continued to appeal the matter to the highest courtÂ – Supreme Judicial Court. His appeal was unsuccessful.
There was also discussion by attorney Heinle of the statutory factors that must be considered regarding an award of alimony. At this point, Sen. Creem was introduced. She admitted immediately that the alimony issue in divorce was a “hot button issue.” Â She indicated that there is a bill before the late Legislature introduced by Rep. Walsh asking for a change in the law regarding alimony. This bill was actually signed byÂ 72 legislators. The major request was that alimony have a limitation and that alimony be considered a transitory circumstance which would also consider Medicare, Social Security, or the consideration for no work at all. In other words the bill would set up a new circumstance considered “Transition Alimony.”
Sen. Creem recognizes the strength of Massachusetts Alimony Reform movement. She recognizes that the Massachusetts aAlimony Reform movement has been in the media and has thousands of supporters. Sen. Creem agrees that changes in alimony are coming, most likely through one of the suggested bills, but only if there is compromise on the part of those who sponsor these bills. She will rely upon the task force recommendations. If there’s no compromise, she suggests that the bills will be stuck in committee.