UMass Law UMass Law: Spencer Secures “Win for Women” at Supreme Judicial Court

UMass Law UMass Law: Spencer Secures “Win for Women” at Supreme Judicial Court
Spencer Secures “Win for Women” at Supreme Judicial Court

UMass Law Associate Dean Shaun Spencer secured a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision preserving an alimony award that reflected the pattern of savings that the parties followed during their marriage.


In what Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly called a “win for women,” UMass Law Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Shaun Spencer successfully represented a client before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. The case, Openshaw v. Openshaw, involved a former husband’s challenge to an alimony award granting Spencer’s client $1,000 per week to reflect the parties’ pattern of savings during their marriage. Under Massachusetts law, alimony is the amount that the recipient spouse needs to maintain the marital lifestyle, provided that the contributing spouse has the ability to pay. The Supreme Judicial Court had to decide whether a pattern of savings should be considered part of the marital lifestyle.

Quoted in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, Spencer explained that the court’s decision to include savings “recognizes the realities” of the marital lifestyle both for high-earning divorcing couples and for those of modest means whose frugality during their marriage allowed them to save. In his argument to the Supreme Judicial Court, Spencer urged the court not to exclude savings from the marital lifestyle because that “would compound the economic injustice suffered by spouses who have spent years out of the workforce as full-time caregivers.”

Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly also reported on support for the decision from two advocacy organizations, the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Family Advocacy Coalition. When a spouse chooses to step out of the paid workforce for some period of time, “she will never regain the lost income, earning potential and power that she has given up for the benefit of the marriage and the family,” said Laura Gal of the Women’s Bar Association. Gal explained that the Openshaw decision “recogniz[es] that the power to save and the need to save continues on after the marriage ends, and the ability to do that depends on how much alimony is paid,” and that “acknowledging that savings is one component of [the marital lifestyle] is critical to protecting the financial wellbeing of women.”

Read the Supreme Judicial Court’s opinion here.