It appears that New Jersey soon will follow other states in enacting an alimony reform law that uses a mathematical formula to create guidelines for the payment of alimony based upon the length of the marriage. Although the new law, when passed, would still provide the judge with discretion to deviate from the guidelines, the purpose behind the bill is to create more uniformity while allowing the courts to react to special circumstances. There are two bills that have been presented to the Assembly and are being considered, one of which contains less aggressive modifications to the current alimony system. If you are paying alimony in New Jersey, it is worthwhile to consider how the alimony reforms may impact you.
The New Alimony Reform Law
The new alimony reform law will not be retroactive, meaning that any alimony awards that had been entered as part of a divorce settlement will not be impacted by the new regulations without affirmative action on the part of the payer or payee. While this may seem unfair if you are the subject of an award that is significantly different than what the new guidelines would suggest, there are too many people relying on payments to continue in the same amount to justify an automatic adjustment. However, a payer may still petition for a modification of an award based on changed financial circumstances.
At present, there are two proposed reform bills and the one that has been under consideration since the spring of 2013, as opposed to November 2013, is modeled after the alimony reform law that was enacted in Massachusetts in 2011 (the “Mainor Bill” after the democratic sponsor). The Mainor Bill has several significant points that impact modification of an award, including:
- The proposed legislation would permit a payer to request a reduction in the alimony payment amount without having to prove that the job loss or salary decrease that motivated the request for modification was permanent. The payer could petition the court ninety (90) days after the change in financial circumstances and the decision of the judge to reduce payments could be made retroactive to the date of the change.
- A payer could petition the court to reduce or discontinue alimony based on a “prospective retirement plan.” The court may consider the age of the petitioner, along with health, earning capacity, and other relevant factors.
- A payer may petition to reduce alimony payments and succeed when the payee is proven to co-habit with someone else, even if it is not shown that the ex-spouse’s new significant other provides a “material economic benefit.”
The basic idea behind this reform is to allow courts to respond to changing financial realities with fairness to both parties. Although it is not yet settled which type of reform will be enacted, the fact is that the majority of people polled in New Jersey believe that some changes need to be made to reflect the current environment where men and women have achieved comparable levels of education and earning capacity. Alimony is intended to get someone back on his feet and able to support himself, not provide a lifetime of income, and the law needs to address this.
The Micklin Law Group, LLC is prepared to help you navigate the changing legal system that surrounds the divorce process. Our legal experts will be able to answer your questions and help you choose a strategy that will work best for your circumstances. As the new alimony reform is passed and signed into law, we will work with you to ensure that you maximize your benefits from the new guidelines. To set up an appointment to discuss your specific circumstances during a free and confidential consultation, please call us at (973) 562-0100.