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Spousal support, also called alimony, is one of several items that divorcing spouses must resolve. They can either do so on their own through mediation or can allow the judge to make a decision. Regardless, both spouses want to make sure they get the best possible outcome. Having a seasoned family law attorney on your side will make a difference. The dedicated team at LaFountain & Wollman P.C. recommends a few key points to keep in mind.

An overview of spousal support

Alimony, or spousal support, is not a right. One spouse must have a demonstrated need for it and the spouse must be able to pay for it. There are four types of alimony in Massachusetts:

  • General term, under which one spouse will make regular payments to the other
  • Rehabilitative, designed to make a dependent spouse self-sufficient by a certain date
  • Reimbursement, which compensates a spouse for contributions he or she made to the marriage
  • Transitional, intended to help a spouse acclimate to a new financial lifestyle or location

Judges take various factors into account when setting the amount and duration of spousal support, such as the length of the marriage, both spouses’ incomes, and both spouses’ job prospects. Some types of alimony can be modified and others cannot, and certain ones can end based on a spouse’s death, remarriage, or romantic cohabitation.

Negotiating spousal support

Spouses have the option to either negotiate their alimony arrangement or have a judge decide for them. Negotiation usually takes place during an out-of-court procedure known as mediation. The mediator can facilitate discussions between the parties but cannot compel them to agree to anything. Rather, the spouses have to decide, in consultation with their attorneys, whether to accept an offer or go to court.

During mediation, you should keep these strategies in mind:

Leverage. The amount of alimony, or whether to request it at all, can be used as leverage for obtaining other desirable terms of your divorce settlement. For instance, you may have a strong case for winning alimony. But perhaps you want a certain percentage of proceeds from the sale of the marital residence. In this case, you might agree to waive alimony for a more favorable equitable distribution settlement.

Focus on the facts. When divorce is on the table, your dealings with your husband and wife should be viewed as a business transaction. Mediation is not the time to bring up grievances about the divorce or start blaming your spouse for the failure of the marriage. Your attorney is there to help maintain objectivity so your decisions aren’t clouded by emotion.

Be willing to compromise. If you go into mediation expecting to get 100% of what you want, it is highly likely you will fail. Spouses should be ready to compromise. Keep in mind that offers to settle made during mediation are confidential and cannot be admitted at trial. This gives both spouses the freedom they need to reach a mutually agreeable alimony settlement.

Don’t rush the process. A single session of mediation may not resolve spousal support. It may take a few rounds of negotiations between the spouses to make a deal. If it doesn’t appear that spousal support will get settled in your mediation session, don’t lose heart. Your attorney can help lay the foundation for future productive negotiations.

What to do if your case goes to trial

Despite your best efforts, the issue of spousal support may have to be decided by the judge. If you find yourself in this position, here are some tips:

  • Be upfront with your attorney about all relevant facts
  • Don’t exaggerate alimony factors (e.g. lack of employability) that may work in your favor
  • Don’t underestimate the persuasiveness of factors that may work in your spouse’s favor
  • Turn over all relevant information about your income and employment to your attorney
  • Be prepared to document all claims you make in your favor or against your spouse

Our law firm represents spouses on both sides of alimony cases, in mediation and at trial. While we attempt to resolve these matters outside of court we recognize that some cases have to be settled by the judge. Either way, LaFountain & Wollman P.C. is prepared to advocate for your best interests. Call our Middlesex family law team today.

About the Author
Attorney Nicholas J. LaFountain has extensive experience litigating and negotiating civil disputes of many types. He has been successfully representing clients in the courtroom since 2004.