On August 8, 2022, the Massachusetts case of Michael D. Cavanagh vs Lynn A. Cavanagh was decided and changed the way alimony and child support are now calculated in Massachusetts.
Both parties sought modification of the child support order issued as part of the original divorce judgment and the mother sought alimony for the first time. The court was asked to determine if a provision of the Alimony Reform Act G.L. c. 208, 53(c) (2) prohibits an award of alimony where child support has been ordered, among other things.
Michael Cavanagh (“father”) and Lynn Cavanagh (“mother”) were divorce in 2016 after a twenty-one-year marriage. The parties have three sons. The two older sons are currently over the age of majority. The youngest son attends a private preparatory school previously attended by the two older sons.
Prior to and during the first year of the marriage the father attended school to become a physician’s assistant. Before and during the marriage the parties lived with the mother’s parents before moving into a house purchased by the mother and father. The father was not on the mortgage due his school debt and during the marriage the debt was paid off.
The father held two jobs and the case describes the parties enjoying a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle.
The mother returned to the workforce in September 2016 as a teacher in a Catholic School.
The judge finds the mother’s weekly gross income to be $719.24 and the father’s weekly gross income to be $4,388.00.
The court noted that it makes little sense to tie the availability of alimony to the provision of child support where child support and alimony serve distinct purposes.
Child support is intended to provide financial support for children whereas alimony is intended to provide financial support on an economically dependent former spouse. The case outlines how both forms of support should be calculated as follows:
- Calculate alimony first, in light of the statutory factors enumerate in 53(a) and the principle that, with the exception of reimbursement alimony, the amount of alimony should be determine with reference to the recipient spouse’s need for support to allow the spouse to maintain the lifestyle enjoyed prior to the termination of the party’s marriage.
- Calculate child support first. Then calculate alimony, considering, the extent possible, the statutory factors enumerated in 53(a). We acknowledge that in the overwhelming majority of cases, the calculation of child support first will preclude any alimony being calculated in the step.
- Compare the base award and tax consequences of the order that would result from the calculations in step (1) with those of the order that would result from the calculations in step (2) above. The judge should then determine which order would be the most equitable for the family before the court, considering the mandatory statutory factors set forth in G.L. c 208, 5(a), and the public policy that children be supported as completely as possible by their parents’ resources, G.L. C. 208,28 and determine which order to issue accordingly.
This will change how these support calculations will occur in the future and with the need to gross up the award, using a Certified Public Account familiar with divorce proceedings will enable attorneys and clients to determine the appropriate amounts.