The alimony reform act that has been contemplated and debated for a long time now has just passed the New Jersey State Assembly at the end of the legislature’s fiscal year on June 30 and it presents significant changes to New Jersey divorce laws. The passage was swift following approximately three years of arguments and compromises. The bill is now heading to the desk of Governor Christie for his signature. This reform marks a significant change in alimony laws, although it will not be retroactively applied to alimony agreements that already are in place. However, it will apply to divorces that presently are pending in the courts, as well as new divorce cases that are filed.
The reform is intended to make divorce fairer for all parties, although it may limit the financial support that a person would have received under the former New Jersey divorce laws. Here are some of the major changes either newly enacted or codified (already applied in practice, but now formalized in the alimony statute) by the alimony reform act:
- How long parties may receive alimony – under the reform statute, a party only is entitled to receive for a period equal to the term of the marriage, barring any unique circumstances. This applies to marriages that lasted less than twenty (20) years. For marriages 20 years or longer, the court retains discretion to award alimony for an indefinite period;
- The statute provides guidelines for the award of pendente lite support and how it impacts a final alimony award – this is important because there were no limitations on pendente lite support in divorce actions that dragged on for years, but now the award of this interim support is regulated by the new alimony reform and it dictates how it will be factored into the award of “open durational” alimony, which is the term that has replaced permanent alimony;
- The parties are equally entitled to the standard of living established during the marriage – this means that there is no weighted benefit given to one party and they both have a right to a comparable standard of living, to the extent possible;
- There are provisions for retirement – one of the big issues with the previous alimony law was that there was no consideration for a decrease in alimony in the event of retirement, whether planned or forced. The alimony reform language provides that a modification of payments is possible upon an actual or prospective retirement of the person making the alimony payments. The statute provides for a rebuttable presumption that alimony will cease when the person making payments reaches the established retirement age of 67 years, as determined by the Social Security Act and subject to revision. This means that the party seeking continued support will have to establish that the payor still should make payments based on a demonstration of “good cause.”
- Suspension or termination of alimony in the event of cohabitation – when the party receiving alimony begins to live with someone, whether or not they get married, it may form the basis for the cessation of alimony payments. The relationship must satisfy the standards normally associated with a marriage or civil union, specifically including the fact that the parties are mutually contributing to duties or obligations, but does not require that there is only one household.
Although there are new regulations that provide important guidelines for the award of alimony, the court still has discretion to deviate from the alimony limitations if there are health issues of one spouse, one person voluntarily gave up a career to support the other party, one spouse is the primary caregiver for a child who requires special care, or other conditions that mandate a different alimony award in the interest of fairness. However, the new legislation will have a significant impact on New Jersey divorce cases moving forward.
The Micklin Law Group, LLC Advocates on Behalf of Individuals Going Through Divorce
As part of our commitment to our clients, The Micklin Law Group, LLC diligently reviews new legislation in order to ensure that our clients get the best results possible. Our skilled New Jersey divorce attorneys are dedicated to fighting for our clients’ interests. To learn about how we can best represent you, please call us at (973) 562-0100 to schedule an initial consultation.