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.
We’re going to the Supreme Judicial Court! The mission is to refine the statutory meaning of “economic marital partnership” in the context of calculating the duration of alimony, where the divorcing parties cohabited prior to the marriage.
Under the Alimony Reform Act, the duration of alimony payments is determined based on the length of the marriage. Where the parties lived together prior to marrying, however, the court can add to the length of the marriage all or a part of the period of premarital cohabitation, where the court finds that the cohabiting parties engaged in an “economic marital partnership.”
The statute does not say what an economic marital partnership is, and some drafters of the legislation say that the provision was intended to benefit same-sex couples who might have lived together as spouses in all but name for a long time before they were able to marry formally. The SJC first looked at the question two years ago in Duff-Kareores v. Kareores, 474 Mass. 528 (2016), but some questions remain unanswered.
Stay tuned to Connor v. Benedict, SJC-12551.
When the court fails to cooperate (or even do the right thing), quitting still is not an option. This one was brutal. The court had refused to allow the report of a guardian ad litem into evidence, gave custody to the father (the GAL had recommended that custody stay with mom), and then the dad decided to terminate contact between mom and her daughter. Multiple complaints for contempt did not resolve the problem, and we eventually had to force the judge off the case. Persistence won out.
Gardner mother’s nightmare of losing custody of her daughter recounted – News – telegram.com – Worcester, MA