Balistreri v. Balistreri (June 2018) concerned the manner in which the length of the marriage is determined for the purpose of alimony when multiple complaints for support have been filed.
The alimony reform act defines the length of the marriage as the “number of months from the date of legal marriage to the date of service of a complaint or petition for divorce or separate support.” In Balistreri, the parties filed various pleadings: multiple support complaints which did not lead to a judgment; a predivorce complaint for modification that led to a spousal support judgment; a divorce complaint that did not lead to a judgment; and a divorce complaint upon which a judgment awarding alimony was entered.
The Court stated that the matter presented two questions: “The first is which pleadings qualify to be considered [when determining the length of the marriage]. The second is how to choose among competing qualifying pleadings.” The Court determined that the relevant pleading for purposes of calculating “length of marriage” was the one upon which the judgment entered. In order words, a support complaint which does not result in a judgment of support does not qualify.
When there is more than one qualifying pleading, as in Balistreri, “it is within the judge’s discretion to determine – taking into account the totality of the circumstances – which of them should be used to calculate the length of the marriage for purposes of § 48.”
In Balistreri, there were two qualifying pleadings: Wife’s 2008 Complaint for Modification and Husband’s 2011 Complaint for Divorce. The Court determined that “a predivorce-judgment complaint for modification that results in an award of spousal support can qualify as the terminal date for the length of the marriage under § 48.” [Citation omitted]. The trial court had not credited Wife’s testimony that the parties had lived together after 2005 and, in the court’s discretion, chose not to use the date of service of the divorce complaint as the terminal date of the marriage. The Appeals Court found no abuse of discretion in the lower court’s ruling. The Court held that it was the service date of the complaint for modification that was the appropriate pleading to calculate the length of the marriage.