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Doktor v. Doktor

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Berkshire

January 30, 2015

Joseph W. Doktor
v.
Dorothy A. Doktor

Argued: October 6, 2014.

Complaint for divorce filed in the Berkshire Division of the Probate and Family Court Department on March 15, 1991.

A complaint for modification, filed on June 21, 2013, was heard by Beth A. Crawford, J.

The Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct appellate review.

Peter C. Alessio for the husband.

Janet H. Pumphrey for the wife.

Present: Gants, C.J., Spina, Cordy, Botsford, Duffly, Lenk, & Hines, JJ.

OPINION

[23 N.E.3d 918] Duffly, J.

Joseph W. Doktor and Dorothy A. Doktor were divorced by a judgment nisi that entered in January, 1992, after a marriage of over twenty years.[1] The judgment incorporated a separation agreement that, among other things, obligated Joseph to pay alimony to Dorothy in the weekly amount of $200 until " the death or remarriage of the Wife." That provision merged with the judgment. In June, 2013, Joseph filed a complaint for modification in the Probate and Family Court, seeking termination of the alimony obligation under G. L. c. 208, § 49 ( f ), inserted by St. 2011, c. 124 (alimony reform act), which provides

Page 548

that " general term alimony orders shall terminate upon the payor attaining the full retirement age." He asserted that he had retired, and was past the normal age of full retirement as defined by the alimony reform act. See G. L. c. 208, § 48. Thereafter, he filed an amended complaint for modification, asserting as a further change in circumstances that his former wife was no longer in need of alimony. Following a trial, a Probate and Family Court judge dismissed the complaint for modification, concluding that G. L. c. 208, § 49 ( f ) (retirement provision), applies prospectively, and therefore that Joseph was required to, but had not, established that there had been a material change in circumstances warranting modification. Joseph appealed, and we granted his petition for direct appellate review.

This case again raises a question relative to retroactive application of the retirement provision of the alimony reform act to alimony agreements that merged with judgments of divorce entered prior to March 1, 2012, the effective date of the act. See Chin v. Merriot, ante 527, 528-529 (2015); Rodman v. Rodman, ante 539, 540 (2015). Joseph argues that the judge erred in concluding that only those general term alimony orders that exceed the durational limits set forth in G. L. c. 208, § 49 ( b ),[2] can be terminated pursuant to provisions of the alimony reform act. We have concluded that the Legislature intended the [23 N.E.3d 919] retirement provision to have prospective application; consequently, it is not applicable to modification of the alimony judgment in this case. Chin v. Merriot, supra at 529. As to Joseph's claim that the evidence he presented supports modification of his obligation to pay alimony based on a material change in circumstances, we conclude that the judge did not abuse her discretion in finding that the evidence failed to establish a change in the parties' circumstances warranting termination of the alimony obligation.

Background.

We draw our summary of the facts from the judge's findings and the stipulations of the parties. The parties were married on ...


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