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How does “rehabilitative” alimony work?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed September 2021

“Rehabilitative” alimony is to support a spouse who is expected to become economically self-sufficient by a predicted time.


Angela and Felix are getting divorced. Angela had knee surgery 6 months ago. She needs another 6 months to recover so she can go back to work. The judge might order Felix to pay Angela rehabilitative alimony for 6 months.

Eric and Donna are getting divorced. They were married for 10 years. They both worked. Donna is a music teacher. Eric is a plumber. A year and a half ago Eric lost his job. He is in a job training program. He has unemployment insurance but it is not enough to live on. He needs a year to finish his training. The judge might order Donna to pay Eric rehabilitative alimony for 1 year.

How long does a couple have to be married for the judge to order rehabilitative alimony?

The judge can order rehabilitative alimony for any length marriage.

How long can rehabilitative alimony last?

The judge can order rehabilitative alimony for up to 5 years.

What can cause rehabilitative alimony to end?

Rehabilitative alimony ends automatically if:

  • the spouse receiving the alimony remarries;
  • either spouse dies; or
  • a specific event happens.

Can rehabilitative alimony be changed?

The judge can extend or change the amount of a rehabilitative alimony order.

Extending the order

If you are going to ask the judge to change the order, you need to show “compelling circumstances.” “Compelling circumstances” are very good reasons.

The judge will consider how long you were married.

He or she can extend rehabilitative alimony if:

  1. something unexpected happens that stops the spouse who gets alimony from becoming self-supporting at the end of the rehabilitation period;
  2. the spouse who receives alimony has tried to become self-supporting; and
  3. the spouse who pays alimony is able to pay it and it is not too hard on him or her. .


The judge ordered Felix to pay rehabilitative alimony for 6 months to give Angela time to recover from knee surgery. It turns out that full recovery will take her 2 years. The judge might order Felix to pay rehabilitative alimony to Angela for another year.

Changing the amount of the order

The judge can change the amount of the rehabilitative alimony payments if there has been a “material change of circumstances” during the rehabilitative period. “Material change of circumstances” means something very important in either spouse’s situation has changed. For example:

  • One of the spouses loses his or her job.
  • One of the spouses’ pay changes a lot.


Donna has been paying Eric rehabilitative alimony for 6 months. The school cut Donna’s hours in half. The judge might order Donna to pay Eric less rehabilitative alimony for the last 6 months.

See the law: General Laws, Chapter 208, section 50.

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