In this article, I’m going to discuss what men need to do in order to get alimony in New Jersey. It’s apropos because, come 2019, the taxation laws in regard to alimony change significantly, so there’s a lot of talk about alimony. In 2014, which isn’t that long ago when it comes to law, the alimony laws were changed significantly. So I think it’s important that we cover that.
Understanding the Alimony Laws in New Jersey
The alimony law in New Jersey was changed in 2014. One important change it made was to provide that neither party was entitled to the better standard of living or a comparable standard of living from the marriage. That was utilized to address what I believe was an underlying bias that pervaded a lot of men’s claims for alimony, and that was, historically, no offense to women, but historically men were the higher wage earners, so they were more likely the one paying alimony. The standard of review for judges was to see if the lower earning spouse, historically in most cases the wife, was able to lead a comparable lifestyle or not. They never looked at whether the person who was paying would be living a comparable standard of living, so quite often, they weren’t. They were living far below it in order to sustain the one that they established while they were married.
So the 2014 amendment eliminated that, but more importantly, what it did is it made recognition that men and women, or both spouses, are on equal footing for alimony. That’s significant as you go into making a claim, because I still think that despite the fact that the laws have changed significantly, the attitudes have not. Most of the judges that are still in the family courts in northern and central New Jersey are many of the ones that have been there for decades, when the old law and the old tax code were there. So you’re still getting over the inherent bias that they carry, as well as their lack, possibly, of understanding of the new tax code and how that affects alimony.
The next thing that you need to do is know a little bit about the statute, and the characteristics that it looks towards for a court to determine alimony. The alimony statute has about 14 different characteristics that a judge is supposed to look at when determining whether or not they’ll award you alimony. I don’t recommend that you go through all 14, usually, unless you’re at a trial. If you are at a trial, you want to print out the list and actually go through all of the characteristics. But if you have an attorney, or you’re doing this on your own, and you’re in mediation, you want to look at the four main components that I think judges and attorneys look to the most.
Main Components of the Alimony Statute
The first main component is the length of your marriage. Second is the lifestyle of your marriage. Third is your ability to earn. The fourth is your spouse’s ability to pay you support. Those four are going to be the most important; there’s no bright line test to how they get applied, but generally speaking you’re going to have to lay them out.
When it comes to alimony, you’re going to have a short term, an intermediate term, a long term, and what used to be called a permanent term.
As a brief guide, short term will be anywhere from zero to say five years. Intermediate term will be like five to nine. Longer term will be 10 to 15 or 16, and then permanent would be somewhere between 15 and 20 and on.
Length of Your Marriage
Now the length of your marriage will usually correspond to the length of your alimony, but they won’t be equal. A lot of people view between half and two-thirds of the time of your marriage as a likely term of your alimony, but again, there’s no bright line rule. It will also depend partly on how much your support’s going to be and whether or not that it increases or decreases over time.
For instance, you may have a 20 year marriage and you’re agreeing to 20 years of support, but it may be dwindling down over the years so that’s it not a significant sum in the later years. People are often more willing to pay alimony longer if they’re paying less.
Lifestyle of Your Marriage
It’s very important to get information about the lifestyle of the marriage. In your divorce you will fill out something called a case information statement. That is the document you want to use to establish your lifestyle, but not just the document. You want to get any kind of documents to support the numbers you’re bringing into your case information statement so that it serves as its own testimony. Not only is it the information you place in there, but there’s documentation to support it.
Ability of the Spouses to Pay and Earn
Your ability to pay is going to be based largely on how much you’re earning either now or in the last few years of your marriage. There might be an issue of imputed income if you’re underemployed. I’m not going to go into that here; I’ve done videos on imputed income before, both on my website and on my YouTube page. You can go there for that information. We’re going to assume, for today’s purposes, that you’re earning what you should be earning and historically have.
Then, your spouse’s ability to pay, that’s the same thing. There could be an imputed income issue there; we’re not going to go into that, but it’s something you should be considering.
The last thing when it comes to alimony duration is to know that the new alimony law generally states that alimony cannot be longer than the term of your marriage, if your marriage lasted no more than than 20 years.
What it really doesn’t say is that if your marriage is more than 20 years, it can be longer. There’s a discrepancy in the statute that hasn’t really come up yet, but eventually somebody’s going to raise it and it’s going to become a significant issue. But for today’s purposes, all you need to know is that your alimony cannot be longer than the term of your marriage if you were married less than 20 years. Most of the time it’s not going to be the length of your marriage, anyway. As I mentioned before usually it’s between half and two-thirds, but it can be the entirety of the marriage length.
Lastly, on the term, just like most things in law, there is a catch-all in the statute that allows the court to consider any other relevant factors; this generally will take almost everything that the law says about how long it can be, like the factors you need to consider and what’s not applicable, and kind of throw it out the door. It basically says the judge can consider anything he or she wants to that might be relevant to alimony and its term.
In my experience, however, it’s not utilized often, and it’s really only for special circumstances: aberrations, egregious circumstances, and other circumstances that really need to be considered so that a fair determination of alimony can be rendered. So you don’t need to worry about it, but you should be aware it’s there. You may want to be the one who relies on it because most people don’t.
Types of Alimony
After you’ve gone through the factors and understood the income issues and the lifestyle and all those factors, you also then want to know the different types of alimony. The different types will determine how long you can get alimony for, but more importantly, it will also determine when and if they get modified.
Open Duration and Limited Duration
There are essentially five different types of alimony. The first is going to be open durational, which is the most common. It can be determined to be permanent. The law used to say permanent alimony, but permanent alimony wasn’t really permanent because it could be modified or eliminated with change of circumstances, so they changed the term and they call it open durational. Nobody in the legislature when they passed it realized that that’s not really a word, but we call it that anyway. it’s open durational, which means up until it’s terminated by the court or by an agreement.
Second is limited duration alimony. That is specific term. It will be from the date of your divorce until a specific term. It cannot be modified in its length, but it can be modified in the amount during its term.
There’s rehabilitative alimony, which is also quite common. That is intended to help the lower earning spouse get back on his or her feet. This is usually because of lost opportunities or change in the marketplace that may have existed while the spouse was underemployed or not working during the marriage. Rehab is intended to help them get back to the position they would they have been in had they stayed employed throughout the marriage, and it will terminate once they have elevated to the place where they were intended to be.
There’s reimbursement alimony, which is uncommon. It is for the repayment of an asset or an obligation that was made during the marriage where one spouse sacrificed a great deal for the other to acquire an asset. Now that’s the technical definition of it, but what it really is intended for the kind of circumstance where one spouse was working while the other was going to school, let’s say med school. That spouse was working, was sacrificing paying the money and allowing the other spouse to obtain the medical degree, which is a very valuable asset (even though most doctors will tell you it’s not). Reimbursement is a way to get repayment because the person with the degree may have a low level earning now, but it will substantially increase once the marriage is over or many years in the future.
The equity division of the courts say that you should be able to share in that. It’s a really good provision … I’ve never actually seen it get awarded, to be honest with you. I’ve raised it in a number of cases, but usually when it comes down to settlement, which most cases do, you’re not using that term, you’re finding a different term. But it’s very important because it gives you an issue to utilize alimony if you don’t fit in the other alimony criteria, like the length of your marriage or the difference in income. If the characteristics the court’s supposed to look at don’t really lend to giving you a good alimony award, and you have the circumstance where you’ve contributed to the other spouse’s lifestyle or education, it’s a good way to get the equities balanced.
The last is a term, which nobody ever really talks about because we use limited duration so often, and as I said limited duration has a specific term. Limited duration as I said has the ability to be modified unless your agreement language says differently. Term is not. Term is simply a term of years. Rarely have I seen people actually define alimony as a term alimony as opposed to open durational or limited duration, because they want to make sure that that the laws that apply to it are tracked by the language. So you want to make sure that what you call it has matching law to it. Term doesn’t have that, so sometimes it lends some ambiguity to it. But, if you’re making an alimony agreement that you don’t want to fit into the box of definition of the other five that I mentioned, you want to call it term. Then you want to specify it clearly how and when it gets modified, if at all, when it’s going to terminate, and whether or not any changes will be made during your proceed of it because of change of circumstances.
That’s alimony in a nutshell. Alimony is probably one of the most complex issues you’ll ever deal with in a divorce, separate from maybe child custody and support, so you really want to be well prepared.