Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex
LAYNE C. CONNOR
WILLIAM P. BENEDICT
Heard: November 6, 2018.
for divorce filed in the Middlesex Division of the Probate
and Family Court Department on June 2, 2014. The case was
heard by Kevin R. Connelly, J.
Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the
case from the Appeals Court.
Clark for the husband.
G. Bellerose for the wife.
Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher,
& Kafker, JJ.
C. Connor (wife) filed a complaint for divorce in June 2014
against William P. Benedict (husband), to whom she had been
married for a little more than two years, and with whom she
had lived for much of the prior twelve years. Following a
trial, a judge of the Probate and Family Court issued a
judgment of divorce nisi that awarded general term alimony to
the wife and, among other things, divided the marital estate
such that fifty-five percent of the over-all assets were
awarded to the husband and forty-five percent to the wife.
Although the legal marriage lasted 2.25 years, for purposes
of determining the amount of alimony pursuant to the Alimony
Reform Act of 2011, St. 2011, c. 124, the judge considered
the marriage to have been of slightly more than eight
years' duration. In doing so, the judge took into account
an approximately six-year period from 2005 to 2011, during
which he found that the parties had lived together and had
engaged in an economic marital partnership. The husband
appealed, and we transferred the case to this court on our
husband challenges the alimony award on two grounds. First,
he claims that, as a matter of law, the wife was precluded
from entering an economic marital partnership with him during
much of the six-year period because she received alimony
payments from her former spouse during that time. In the
alternative, the husband claims that, even if the wife could
have entered into an economic marital partnership, the judge
did not make sufficient findings to support a determination
that she had done so. The husband also challenges the
division of the marital estate on the grounds that the judge
selected the wrong valuation date; made an incorrect
determination of the assets in the marital estate; improperly
assigned liabilities to the husband; and did not clarify the
distribution of the retirement accounts. We affirm.
summarize the judge's findings of fact, supplemented by
undisputed facts in the record and reserving certain facts
for later discussion. See Pierce v. Pierce, 455
Mass. 286, 288 (2009) .
Early years (2000 to 2004).
the parties met in August 2000, the wife owned a
single-family house. In July 2001, she sold that property and
used the proceeds to make a down payment on a house in
Maynard. The parties began living together in the Maynard
house in August 2001, along with the wife's minor
At the time, the husband recently had filed for bankruptcy;
his name did not appear on the deed or mortgage. Nonetheless,
the parties shared the mortgage payments, as well as the
costs of utilities, groceries, and other household expenses.
At some point in 2001, the wife became disabled and unable to
work. In 2003, she began receiving disability
Australia (2004 to 2005).
March 2004 to September 2005, the wife relocated to Australia
with her son in order to receive medical treatment. The
parties arranged for the husband to live in the house in
Maynard while he coordinated with a realtor to sell it. In
September 2004, after the house had been sold, the husband
moved to a rental townhouse in Shirley. Some of the proceeds
from the sale were used to pay the wife's medical bills;
$5, 000 went to the husband for improvements he had made to
the house while the wife was away; the wife received the
Reunification (2005 to 2012).
wife returned to the United States in October 2005, when her
Australian medical visa expired. In November 2005, the wife
moved into the townhouse in Shirley and the parties resumed
living together, sharing rent and utility expenses. The
husband provided for the wife's health insurance through
his employer's "domestic partner benefits
November 2006, the parties jointly purchased a house in
Townsend (marital home). They each contributed at least $44, 000
to the down payment. They made substantial improvements to the
house, including installing hardwood floors, retiling several
rooms, and building a gymnasium in the basement. The wife
purchased most of the furniture, using credit cards; the
husband paid at least some of the credit card bills. The
parties also bought additional household items, such as a
dining room set, together. Throughout the time they lived in
the marital home, they shared the costs of the mortgage,
utilities, and other household expenses.
December 2008, the husband's employer terminated the
wife's health insurance due to a change in company policy
concerning "domestic partners." In response, the
wife obtained COBRA insurance at a monthly cost of $500, and
the husband began contributing "slightly more" to
the household expenses.
wife's minor son lived with the parties in the marital
home and became close to the husband. When the husband's
father passed away in 2011, the husband named the wife's
son in the obituary as a grandson of the deceased.
Receipt of alimony from prior spouse.
wife and her prior spouse had divorced in 2001. After that
divorce, the wife received regular child support and alimony
payments. By 2006, the husband was "at least somewhat
aware" of the alimony payments, which ceased in 2011.
Marriage and separation (2012 to 2014).
parties were married on February 18, 2012. Thereafter, the
wife again received health insurance through the
husband's employer, at that point as his spouse.
trial judge found that, throughout the course of the marriage
(including at least the 6.33-year period in which they lived
together immediately prior to their legal marriage), the
parties enjoyed an "upper-middle-income lifestyle."
They dined out two to three times per week, and traveled
together several times per year to destinations such as
Switzerland, the Bahamas, and California. The husband
purchased diamond earrings, pendants, rings, and bracelets
for the wife.
2013, however, the parties had a series of disagreements. The
wife testified to incidents of abuse and harassment by the
husband, and both parties suggested that the other had used
intoxicating substances to excess. Ultimately, the judge
found that the parties suffered from "a great deal of
marital discord." The wife and her minor son left the
marital home on May 25, 2014, and began renting an apartment,
while the husband and his adult son lived in the marital
wife filed a complaint for divorce in the Probate and Family
Court on June 2, 2014; the husband accepted service on June
13, 2014. In July 2014, the wife sought a number of temporary
orders, and the motion judge, who was not the trial judge,
ordered the husband to pay temporary alimony and all expenses
related to the marital home. At trial, the husband and wife
testified as the only witnesses, and submitted individual
judgment of divorce nisi issued on August 25, 2016. The trial
judge determined that, at the time of trial, the wife was
receiving disability payments, child support, and disability
benefits for her child, totaling approximately $1, 375 per
week. The husband remained in good health and had been able
to maintain his job at a large corporation, where he earned
$2, 832 per week,  as well as retirement, medical, and other
benefits. The judge ordered the husband to maintain payments
on the wife's health insurance and to maintain a life
insurance policy in her name. The judge also ordered the
husband to pay alimony in the amount of $511 per week for a
period of sixty-one months. With respect to the division of