UMass Law UMass Law: Spencer Argues at Supreme Judicial Court on Alimony Law

UMass Law UMass Law: Spencer Argues at Supreme Judicial Court on Alimony Law
Spencer Argues at Supreme Judicial Court on Alimony Law

UMass Law’s Shaun Spencer argued before the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court that the state’s alimony law should allow alimony awards that maintain patterns of savings that the parties followed during their marriage.

Prof. Shaun Spencer


UMass Law Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Shaun Spencer argued before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in support of a broad interpretation of the state’s alimony law. The case, Openshaw v. Openshaw, involved the former husband’s appeal from an alimony award that included $1,000 per week for the former wife to continue the parties’ practice of savings during their marriage. Under Massachusetts law, alimony is generally the amount that the recipient spouse needs to maintain the marital lifestyle, to the extent that the contributing spouse has the ability to pay. The husband contended that savings should not be considered part of the marital lifestyle.

Arguing before the Supreme Judicial Court on behalf of the wife, Spencer “urge[d] the Court not to create a carve-out from the marital lifestyle for three reasons. First, it would create an alimony shelter—it would allow for manipulation of financial affairs to shelter potentially decades of future income from the alimony determination. Second, it would compound the economic injustice suffered by spouses who have spent years out of the workforce as full-time caregivers. And third, it would rest upon … an incoherent distinction between two different types of financial allocations by the parties.”

Two organizations filed amicus briefs in support of including savings in the marital lifestyle: the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Family Advocacy Coalition. Both organizations offered empirical evidence of the long-term harm suffered by spouses, most often women, who spend decades out of the workforce raising the family’s children and are therefore less able to save for retirement post-divorce. For example, the Massachusetts Family Advocacy Coalition cited a Government Accounting Office studying finding that “women’s household incomes fell by an average of 41% when divorcing after age 50, almost twice the decline that men experienced.” Similarly, the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts detailed the post-divorce consequences of the “lifetime earnings gap” faced by women as a result of “discrimination, traditional family roles, and shared family choices.”

Spencer was also quoted in a Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly article about the case. As he told the newspaper, “The [SJC] has rejected any notion that investment types of spending — such as parties enjoying vacation homes, second homes, expensive jewelry, furs, what have you — can’t be a part of [the marital] lifestyle…. And there’s really no reason why spending money on saving for the future should be any different.”

Video of the complete oral argument will be available on the Supreme Judicial Court’s YouTube page. The Court is expected to issue its ruling in the spring of 2024.