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Understanding the New Jersey Alimony Reform Statute

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Alimony was created so that the spouse who did not work outside of the home could afford to live on his or her own after a divorce.  It was designed to reflect economic and non-economic contributions to a marriage.  Alimony came into existence at a time when the husband typically brought home the bulk of the household income and the wife was at a serious disadvantage when there was a dissolution of the marriage.  However, over the years, alimony has come under attack as being unfair to the paying party, typically the husband, who continues to support an ex-spouse with the education and earning capacity to support himself or herself.  The New Jersey Alimony Reform movement is an attempt to create a system with less disparity and follows a trend in other states like Massachusetts and Colorado. The reform bill is modeled after a similar alimony reform law passed in Massachusetts in 2011.  Although the reform bill has bi-partisan support, there are opponents of the proposed reform and an alternate proposal before the legislature that was submitted in November.

In New Jersey, alimony is awarded to the spouse who makes less money.  There are four types of alimony that may be awarded:

  • Reimbursement;
  • Rehabilitative;
  • Limited Duration; and
  • Permanent.

When permanent alimony is awarded, there may be no end date given in the alimony award.  There have been cases where a man who was married to his wife for eleven years paid alimony for more than four decades.  Although there is judicial discretion in each case, permanent alimony often means that the principal earner pays his or her ex-spouse until s/he retires or the ex-spouse remarries.  In fact, under the current law, alimony does not automatically stop with the retirement of the payer.  This is the problem that current reform proposals seek to address.

Under the current law, New Jersey does not have a formula for the courts to determine alimony payments.  Although alimony is not awarded in every case, this lack of any real guidelines has led to alimony being paid for many more years than the marriage lasted.  Moreover, a payer had to petition the court to stop alimony payments based upon retirement or changed financial circumstances and these petitions often are denied.  The proposed alimony reform sponsored by Assemblyman Charles Mainor (D., Hudson) would eliminate permanent alimony, creating indefinite alimony and a timetable of specified alimony based upon the length of the marriage.  Proposed payments include:

  • A marriage of less than five (5) years would lead to alimony payments for half the number of months that the couple was married;
  • A marriage that lasted from 5 to ten (10) years would result in alimony payments for sixty percent (60%) of the duration of the marriage;
  • A marriage between 10 and fifteen (15) years would mean that the higher earner would pay alimony for seventy percent (70%) of the length of the marriage;
  • A marriage of 15 to twenty (20) years would result in alimony payments for a length of time equaling eighty percent (80%) of the marriage duration; and
  • The court would have discretion to determine alimony payments for a marriage lasting more than 20 years.

Another facet of the reform bill would be that the alimony payment will not exceed the reasonable needs of the recipient.  The alimony payment also would not exceed 30-35% of the difference between the two spouses’ incomes.  For example, if the husband made $150,000 and the wife earned $50,000, the difference between their incomes is $100,000 and the alimony payment would not exceed $35,000.

Advocates for the reform state that the purpose of the Alimony Reform bill is to make the system fairer to all parties.  While the court will still have the discretion to address the specific compelling factors of each case, these guidelines provide a formula which should lead to parity in divorce settlements throughout the State of New Jersey.  Opponents of the reform argue that the bill imposes too many restrictions on a judge’s ability to create an alimony payment that reflects the spouses’ marital circumstances.  These defenders of the current New Jersey law state that the reform is reacting to unusual cases and that the majority of alimony awards are fair and reasonable.

As the laws change in New Jersey, the experienced legal experts at The Micklin Law Group, LLC can help you understand your rights and help you obtain the best possible outcome if you are contemplating or going through a divorce.  We are available to sit down with you during a free and confidential consultation.  To schedule a meeting with one of our seasoned family law attorneys, please call us today at (973) 562-0100.

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