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Tatro v. Allard, Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Unpublished Disposition No. 12-P-949, May 6, 2013

In Tatro v. Allard, the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed and remanded a Probate and Family Court’s judgment of divorce in light of the serious questions that remained with regard to whether the wife was entitled to alimony. 

The parties were married for 27 years. The husband had a net annual income of $95,235, including salary from a business owned by the parties.  The wife earned $41,000 annually.  The husband remained in the marital home and the wife resided with the parties’ two sons.  The husband was ordered to pay child support. The wife received $75,830 for her interest in the marital home and $85,587 for her interest in the parties’ business. Pointing to errors and undisclosed income, the trial court expressly discounted the wife’s financial statement which asserted that her living expenses considerably exceeded her income.  The trial court determined that the wife did not demonstrate a financial need for alimony.  The wife appealed. 

The Appeals Court determined that while the errors on the wife’s financial statement provided the judge some reason to question the accuracy of the amount of the wife’s financial shortfall, those errors did little to undercut her claim of an unsustainable deficit. The Appeals Court noted that the wife’s shortfall was in fact evident from her increased credit card debt. The Appeals Court found that there were “obvious problems” if the trial court was suggesting that the wife use her share of the marital estate to meet this shortfall. It was further argued on appeal that the wife could reduce her expenses by using her share of the marital estate to buy a home “free and clear.” However, the Appeals Court noted that there was no finding by the trial court as to the kind of house the wife could purchase and, therefore, no way to assess how the wife’s “station” would be affected. Moreover, the trial court failed to account for how the wife would pay expenses for that new home.  Further, there were equitable concerns if the wife were required to spend all of the equity she obtained from the marital estate to purchase that new home. In failing to address such concerns, the trial court failed to provide adequate support for its conclusion that the wife had not demonstrated a “need” for alimony. Although the husband argued that he did not have the ability to pay alimony, the Appeals Court found that the trial court did not have an adequate opportunity to scrutinize the husband’s expenses, since it determined that there was no need for alimony.

In light of the serious questions that remained with regard to whether the wife was entitled to alimony, the Appeals Court vacated the judgment insofar as it addressed alimony and remanded the matter for further findings and a ruling on alimony.