CLIFFORD E. GEORGE
JACQUELYN A. GEORGE.
Heard: September 6, 2016.
for divorce filed in the Suffolk Division of the Probate and
Family Court Department on May 29, 2001.
complaint for modification, filed on August 26, 2013, was
heard by Jeremy A. Stahlin, J.
Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the
case from the Appeals Court.
J. Kelly for Clifford E. George.
Matthew P. Barach (Alessandra Petrucelli with him) for
Jacquelyn A. George.
Present: Gants, C.J., Botsford, Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy,
& Budd, JJ.
E. George and Jacquelyn A. George married in 1989 and
divorced in 2002. Their separation agreement, and the
judgment that followed, provided that Clifford would pay
Jacquelyn monthly alimony. In 2013, Clifford filed a
complaint for modification of the divorce judgment that
sought, among other things, to modify his alimony obligation
based on G. L. c. 208, § 49 (b), part of the Alimony
Reform Act, St. 2011, c. 124 (act), which became effective on
March 1, 2012, nearly ten years after the parties'
divorce. Section 49 (b) provides that general term alimony
for marriages lasting more than ten years but fewer than
fifteen years shall not continue for "longer than
[seventy] per cent of the number of months of the marriage,
" G. L. c. 208, § 49 (b) (3), a process by which a
judge can deviate from the durational limit, where doing so
is "required in the interests of justice." G. L. c.
208, § 49 (b). The act also provided a phase-in schedule
for when complaints for modification based on the new
durational limits could be brought for alimony obligations
that predated the effective date of the act. St. 2011, c.
124, §§ 4, 5.
memorandum of decision, the Probate and Family Court judge
denied Clifford's complaint for modification because he
found that deviation beyond the durational limits of the act
was warranted. Clifford appealed from this judgment to the
Appeals Court, and we transferred the case to this court on
our own motion.
affirm the judge's denial of relief but on the ground
that Clifford's complaint was filed prematurely. However,
we utilize this opportunity to set forth guidance for how the
"interests of justice" standard of § 49 (b)
should be applied when determining whether deviating beyond
the durational limits of the act is warranted.
and Jacquelyn married in Massachusetts in June, 1989. The
parties were divorced in November, 2002. Their separation
agreement merged into the divorce judgment, except for the
division of property provisions. According to one of the
merged portions, Clifford was to pay Jacquelyn $1, 800 per
month in alimony, subject to termination "upon the
earliest to occur of [Clifford's] death,
[Jacquelyn's] death, [Jacquelyn's] remarriage or July
30, 2026." The unmerged portion of the separation
agreement and the divorce judgment gave Jacquelyn the former
marital home and required Clifford to pay for her health
August 26, 2013, Clifford filed a complaint for modification,
requesting that the divorce judgment be modified in several
ways: to allow Clifford to cease paying for Jacquelyn's
health insurance; to order Jacquelyn to refinance and remove
Clifford's name from the mortgage on the former marital
home; and to terminate alimony payments. Clifford asserted
that changed circumstances warranted such modification.
Specifically, he claimed that the cost of health insurance
had more than doubled since the time of divorce, his ability
to secure credit for his business had been harmed by