When the Massachusetts Legislature unanimously passed the Alimony Reform Act of 2011, the bill was heralded as a “sweeping overhaul,” a long overdue change that would improve the predictability of divorce cases in the Commonwealth. This Note examines, from a feminist perspective, the failures of the Alimony Reform Act to fully consider and compensate women for unpaid contributions provided during the course of a marriage. It chronicles alimony’s long standing history in Massachusetts and details the changes the new statutes made, paying particular attention to the newly codified addition of rehabilitative alimony, which provides short term alimony to dependent spouses in order to facilitate re-entry to the workforce, as a statutorily sanctioned alimony option.
This Note then compares interpretations of self-sufficiency in Texas and Tennessee, as polarizing examples of how other jurisdictions have determined whether a recipient spouse can be rehabilitated. Texas promotes independence between the parties over economic parity, requiring only that a former spouse be rehabilitated to meet his/her “minimum reasonable needs.” On the other hand, Tennessee’s legislature has gone to great lengths to make it perfectly clear that both parties’ contributions to the household are highly valued. Tennessee’s equality-based approach ensures that an award of rehabilitative alimony will not result in the economic disadvantage of a spouse who made career sacrifices for caregiving.
This Note recommends that Massachusetts adopt a legislative definition of self-sufficiency that promotes post-divorce financial parity between the spouses. The persistence of the wage gap and contributing factors, such as unequal pay, gendered career choices, unpaid caregiving work, and negative career consequences of mothering, all act against women’s ability to earn the same as men. Rehabilitation should be limited to only those spouses who can achieve economic success equal to their partners. Using Tennessee’s rehabilitative alimony statute as an example, this Note proposes language that could be used to eliminate any confusion resulting from the pressure to make alimony reform more predictable.
Julie-Anne G. Stebbins, FAMILY LAW—THE REHABILITATION ILLUSION: HOW ALIMONY REFORM IN MASSACHUSETTS FAILS TO COMPENSATE FOR CAREGIVING, 36 W. New Eng. L. Rev. 407 (2014), https://digitalcommons.law.wne.edu/lawreview/vol36/iss3/7