Thirty-Six-Year Marriage Ends with Spousal Support Dispute

Along with the division of marital property and debts in a divorce, courts are often called upon to decide whether to award spousal support, also known as alimony, to the less well-off spouse. Unlike child support, courts have broad discretion in entering spousal support orders. With a Massachusetts divorce, courts make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

The long-standing tradition of awarding spousal support to women whose husbands were the breadwinners is on the decline. The recent divorce filing of Tony Award-winning actor Ben Vereen is an example of this cultural change. Vereen and his wife had been married for 36 years. Court records cite irreconcilable differences as the reason for the divorce filing. Vereen is asking the court to terminate his wife’s ability to collect spousal support.

Massachusetts courts look at many factors when determining whether spousal support should be awarded. The age, physical and financial condition of the former spouses are considered. Courts also look at the length of the marriage and the couple’s standard of living during the marriage. Perhaps the biggest factor is the amount of time the recipient spouse would need to obtain education or training to be self-sufficient. The ability of the paying spouse to support himself or herself is also examined.

Whether the court will grant Vereen’s request has yet to be seen. However, spousal support awards are not as commonplace as they once were. There has been a change over the past several decades as women have become more independent. Most marriages now have both spouses earning incomes. The result has been a decrease in the number of cases in which spousal support is awarded. Whether or not a court will enter a spousal support order in your matter depends on the unique facts and set of circumstances of your individual case.

Source: The Sacramento Bee, “Ben Vereen files for divorce from wife of 36 years,” Sept. 19, 2012