We argued this case before the Appeals Court last Wednesday. At issue was the question whether the Worcester Probate and Family Court properly applied the statutory standard when it ordered that the plaintiff’s alimony obligation continue beyond the statutory term limit.
While it is true that a court has the discretion to extend alimony beyond its prescribed term, it needs to make a finding that the extension is “in the interests of justice.” In order to make that finding, the court needs to address a series of factors set out in the statute, as more fully discussed in the 2016 case of George v. George. The judge in this case did not address itself to those statutory factors, nor did it find that the facts satisfied the “interests of justice” standard.
While the particular “interests of justice” finding might sound like it requires the court to say some magic words (honestly, it does to me too), this case is a reminder that a trial judgment must follow specific rules set out in the law. Whether the court’s findings are implicit in the judgment or spelled out in separate findings of fact and conclusions of law, the rulings contained in the judgment must flow rationally from the judge’s findings. Where the judgment and the facts simply fail to sync, it is possible that the court has abused its discretion, or that the judgment is simply the product of an error.
This is one of the reasons we have an appeals court. Judges are people, and people make mistakes. Sometimes we’re able to correct those mistakes.