The reforms "modernize and make more fair the alimony system, and it has come up in a very grassroots way, and I like that process," Patrick said at the Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill in Boston.
The overhaul, unanimously passed by the state House and the Senate, is intended to make alimony more fair and reasonable for both parties in a divorce, officials said.
The measure generally ends alimony when the payer reaches retirement age or when the recipient begins living with a romantic partner. It establishes an alimony formula based on the length of the marriage -- for example, alimony would generally last no more than 10 1/2 years after a 15-year marriage.
The changes take effect in March 2012, and people paying lifetime alimony can file for modifications starting in 2013.
Alimony, or spousal support, involves a legal obligation to provide financial support to one spouse from the other after marital separation or from an ex-spouse on divorce.
The legislation gives judges more flexibility to make determinations based on a family's specific circumstances, proponents say.
For instance, people divorcing from short marriages who previously would receive no alimony can now receive a brief period of payments to help them get through the post-divorce transition period.
"Our alimony law was so antiquated that there were issues on both sides, for payers and payees," former Massachusetts Bar Association President Denise Squillante told The Boston Globe.
"This is a very fair bill that addresses all those issues," she said.
Boston divorce lawyer Gerald Nissenbaum, former president of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, called the bill "mean-spirited and draconian" because the limits it puts on alimony are "too strict."
Nissenbaum said he feared the law would hurt alimony recipients whose sacrifices in a marriage were not reflected in its provisions.