Sometimes a case is in progress during or shortly after a change in the law, when its application and interpretation are still uncertain. In such cases, the parties may prefer to settle rather than risk an unpredictable result. In the recent case of Demarco v. Demarco, the parties chose to reach a settlement related to spousal support rather than complete the trial. The record suggests that the judge encouraged settlement based upon an assumption about how the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 would apply to the case, but a subsequent opinion by the Supreme Judicial Court made that assumption erroneous.
The parties in this case had an alimony provision in their separation agreement that ultimately merged into their judgment of divorce. The agreement provided that the husband would pay alimony until either the death of one of the parties, the wife’s remarriage, or when the husband had no gross earned income after reaching age 68. The legislature subsequently changed the law to provide that general term alimony orders terminate when the payor reaches full retirement age. After the husband stopped paying alimony, the wife filed a complaint for contempt, and the husband then filed an amended complaint for modification based on his reaching retirement age.
It appeared that the attorneys and judge all believed that the retirement age provision of the act would apply retroactively. If so, the husband would no longer be required to make the alimony payments. With the consent of the parties’ counsel, the judge discussed the benefits of settling the case, noting that the interpretation of the act was unsettled and that the result of proceeding to trial could be very harsh for the wife.