Boston Magazine Exposé on Massachusetts Alimony "Hell"

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Article highlights Mass residents trapped in the system.

among the most backward in the country.

The hidden truth about Massachusetts alimony law has been revealed in a major exposé "Till Death Do Us Pay", by Kris Frieswick, in Boston Magazine's July 2009 issue. She describes the state's current law as a "unique hell" and, after interviewing lawyers and professors around the U.S., concludes it is "among the most backward in the country."

A link to the Boston Magazine article and readers comments is here:
http://www.bostonmagazine.com/articles/till_death_do_us_pay/

An extensive interview with Ms. Frieswick can be found here; http://www.myfoxboston.com/dpp/morning/070609_Rewriting_Mass_alimony_laws

Ms. Frieswick quotes an Arizona law professor who dated Massachusetts alimony law at 1850, when most women were not employed and independence could not be expected of many of them.

Marlboro, Massachusetts resident Steve Hitner is profiled in the article because of his decade-long struggle to resolve his 1996 no-fault divorce, and because he is the President of Massachusetts Alimony Reform (MAR) http://www.massalimonyreform.org, an organization that supports reform through HR 1785, a bill before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary of the Legislature that is co-sponsored by 72 legislators. The bill would bring Massachusetts into conformity with much of the country by eliminating lifelong alimony for those capable of self-sufficiency by limiting, for most, the duration of alimony to one-half the length of the failed marriage.

The bill provides automatic adjustments in payments to compensate for increases in the cost of living, while in later years, tapering off alimony to reduce the impact of eventual termination. The bill eliminates the current practice of a potential windfall for the alimony recipient if the former spouse paying alimony happens to marry a new spouse with income or assets. Finally, the bill eliminates the common practice of requiring alimony payments even after the paying ex-spouse reaches typical retirement age.

Hitner, who owns a small printing business, says, "We have a society that should encourage people to take care of themselves, but in Massachusetts, when two people split up, the court system ties them together for the rest of their lives."

Historically, when divorces were uncommon, alimony was often punishment of a wayward husband and the only available support for the wife. Today, divorce is common, almost universally "no-fault" and includes a division of marital assets. In addition, most wives earn incomes and approximately 40% earn more than do their husbands. Awarding alimony for life in most cases encourages harmful dependence, discourages civil relationships between ex-spouses and adversely affects the children who are caught in the middle.

The article also highlights the views of Senator Cynthia Stone Creem (Newton, Brookline and Wellesley) who works as a divorce lawyer in her law firm while serving as co-chair of the Judiciary Committee. According to the article, she opposes the reforms of HR 1785 and supports an end date to alimony only if the date is determined through litigation, on a case-by-case basis which, Hitner points out, is both contentious and very costly to the ex-spouses.

According to the article Senator Creem believes HR 1785 is "set up by people who basically want to eliminate alimony." Hitner disagrees. "We have no interest in eliminating alimony. The bill is clear that we believe there is a place for it by helping the majority to make the transition to independence, as well as providing longer-term help for people who truly cannot provide for themselves. And, this is after taking into account the division of marital assets. Our 72 co-sponsoring Representatives and Senators agree with us. Many other states have alimony that is limited in time and helps the lower earning spouse to become self-sufficient in a reasonable period of time."

To read HR 1785 and MAR's "Horror Stories," please visit the website, http://www.massalimonyreform.org.    

Mr. Hitner is available for media and other public appearances. Please call 508 335-0069.

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