The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) recently made a significant ruling in the case of Cavanaugh vs. Cavanaugh, which has major implications for alimony and child support in divorce cases in the state. The decision clarifies the factors that should be considered when determining whether to modify alimony and child support orders, and it also establishes new standards for the duration of alimony payments.
In the Cavanaugh case, the former husband sought to modify his alimony and child support obligations due to a decrease in his income. The lower court denied his request, finding that he had not shown a substantial and material change in circumstances that would warrant a modification of the orders. The SJC, however, disagreed and reversed the lower court’s decision.
Factors Considered in Determining Whether to Modify Orders
The SJC clarified that the standard for modifying alimony and child support orders is whether there has been a material change in circumstances since the entry of the original order. The court explained that a material change is one that is significant and meaningful, and that it may include changes in the income, employment, health, or living arrangements of either party.
The SJC also emphasized that the party seeking a modification of alimony or child support must show that the change in circumstances is substantial, meaning that it is more than a minor or insignificant change. The court explained that a decrease in income of 5-10% is not enough to warrant a modification, but a decrease of 20% or more may be sufficient.
New Standards for the Duration of Alimony Payments
In addition, the SJC established new standards for the duration of alimony payments. The court held that the length of an alimony award should be based on the length of the marriage, with longer marriages generally resulting in longer alimony awards. The court also established a presumption that alimony should not exceed the length of the marriage unless there are compelling reasons to deviate from that presumption.
The court’s decision in Cavanaugh vs. Cavanaugh provides important guidance for divorce cases in Massachusetts. It clarifies the standard for modifying alimony and child support orders and provides a clear definition of what constitutes a material change in circumstances. It also establishes new standards for the duration of alimony payments, which will help parties and judges determine appropriate awards in light of the length of the marriage.
Importance of Careful Planning and Negotiation in Divorce Agreements
The decision also underscores the importance of carefully considering the terms of divorce agreements and orders at the time they are entered. Parties should anticipate and plan for potential changes in circumstances that may impact their ability to comply with support orders, and they should seek to negotiate agreements that are flexible and responsive to changing circumstances.
Overall, the SJC’s decision in Cavanaugh vs. Cavanaugh provides important guidance and clarity for parties and judges in Massachusetts divorce cases. It underscores the importance of careful planning and negotiation at the time of divorce, and it establishes new standards for the duration of alimony payments that will help ensure that support awards are fair and appropriate.