By Joan F. Simoneau, Community Reporter
Marlborough – On March 1, the Alimony Reform Bill that Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law last September became effective. It was the culmination of more than eight years of dedication and perseverance displayed by Steve Hitner, a Marlborough businessman who led the crusade to change the state's alimony system.
The bill is designed to establish guidelines for alimony payments, and limit their duration, putting an end to the “lifetime alimony” payments ordered by judges in some divorce cases. One of the biggest changes imposes limits on how long a spouse can receive alimony payments, based on how long the couple was married.
President of Metrowest Printing Co., Hitner used his personal resources to get the word out.
“I developed a data base, with a website and got the information out electronically and with printed flyers to spread the word and invite those victimized by the old guidelines to join the fight,” he said.
At his side since the group's inception were his new wife, Jeanie, and Deborah Scanlon and Cathy Ortiz, who started the Second Wives Club, which consists of women who are forced to contribute income to lifetime alimony to their husbands” ex-wives.
Eventually more than 1,400 men and women joined the Alimony Reform movement. They volunteered their time to educate legislators, the news media and the public on the urgent and compelling need to reform Massachusetts alimony laws, propose and support model legislation on fair and equitable laws for men and women. Hitner and other members of the group worked cohesively with representatives and presidents of the Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Boston Bar Association in preparing the bill.
In 2009, after several attempts to pass reform, the Massachusetts judiciary chairmen created the Alimony Reform Task Force. Members included the Mass. Bar, Boston Bar, Women's Bar, American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers, the chief justice of probate and Hitner.
“I provided descriptions of the problems, and the lawyers provided the solutions,” Hitner said. “The chairs of the task force, Senator Gail Candaras and Representative John Fernandes, approved the bill and it went to the House and Senate, where it was approved unanimously.”
The mission statement of the Reform group is “To promote peace, independence, and self-sufficiency of the parties to divorce.” The goal was to see that judges have clear guidelines that protect the truly needy and eliminate lifelong marital welfare and expensive lawyer battles over vague alimony rules and interpretations.
Hitner receives a continuous stream of letters, emails, and calls of gratitude from men and women all over the state.
“I have had calls about payers” ex-spouses getting married.? Long-time alimony payers are finally free.? Receiving spouses are going back to work.? What was once an entitlement is now based on need and ability to pay,” he said.
The mission is now spreading to many states all over the country, and Hitner is consulting with divorce reform activists in Florida, Colorado, Oregon, Connecticut, New Jersey, Virginia and South Carolina.
“It is democracy in action,” he said proudly, “and I am happy to be a part of it.”