After years of debate, New Jersey has a new alimony law, which is basically
the existing law with some substantial upgrades. In trying to fix the
inequities that result when alimony obligations continue far too long,
the legislature has created guidelines to apply when determining, modifying
or terminating an alimony obligation.
First, permanent alimony has been removed from our law. If you are married
or in a civil union (collectively referred to as “marriage”
hereafter) for more than 20 years, the court can award something called
“open durational” alimony. It is not intended to be permanent
and will end in most circumstances, typically at retirement, which we
discuss later. Under the old law, alimony obligations really could last
forever and the burden on the payor spouse to modify or terminate alimony,
even at retirement, was substantial. Judges differed widely on the burden
of proof needed to modify or terminate alimony.
In marriages less than 20 years, our law has been in flux for many years.
Many years ago, we had an appellate case suggest that a marriage of 10
years was not short-term and an award of permanent alimony was appropriate.
This led many people to argue for long-term alimony awards in relatively
short marriages. More recently, our appellate division ruled that a marriage
of 15 years precludes a court awarding limited duration alimony, if alimony
is appropriate, meaning that if a court were to award alimony, it would
be left with permanent alimony (with or lieu of rehabilitative and/or
reimbursement alimony). Thanks to our new alimony law, the vast majority
of people with a marriage less than 20 years need not worry about long-term
alimony obligations. More specifically, the maximum length of an alimony
obligation is now the length of your marriage, except in exceptional circumstances.
We think it is important to note that this is not a guideline as to the
length, but merely a ceiling on the length. In other words, the changes
to the law do not mean that a marriage of 13 years results in an alimony
award of 13 years, but that the duration can be no more than 13 years.
As such, there is still plenty that parties will be unfortunately fighting
about when coming up with the duration of an alimony award. You need an
experience New Jersey Divorce Attorney to ensure you are treated fairly
when it comes to the duration and the amount of alimony.
The new law also places an emphasis on both parties being entitled to maintain
a lifestyle comparable to the marital standard of living, with neither
party having a greater entitlement to that standard. Our law has drifted
away from the ability of the payor spouse to pay alimony and much more
toward the needs of the payee spouse over the years. The changes to our
alimony law seeks to reverse that trend.
For parties that are already divorced with alimony obligations, the new
bill provides plenty of opportunities to modify or terminate alimony.
In the case of retirement, there is now a rebuttable presumption that
alimony shall terminate at age 67. That means anyone who is currently
paying alimony can retire and petition the court to terminate alimony
when they turn 67. The court must terminate alimony unless the other party
shows good cause to overcome the rebuttable presumption of retirement.
This is very good news for payors of alimony and is really not unfair
to recipients, as everyone should be permitted to retire and enjoy the
fruits of their work without the dark cloud of alimony hanging over their heads.
In the case of unemployment, we have long had inconsistent rulings from
judges on what constitutes a permanent change in circumstances. The court
cannot modify alimony if a payor has incurred a “temporary”
change in circumstances, whether that is unemployment or a diminution
in income. The key question has always been: what is temporary? The alimony
statute has been amended to suggest that unemployment or reduction in
income of 90 days or more should permit a payor to apply to the court
for a modification of alimony. The new law specifically says that the
modification or termination of alimony in the case of change in circumstances
can be retroactive to the date the unemployment and reduction in income
commenced and gives the court some guidance to consider temporary modifications
Finally, the new law sets forth factors for the court to access in determining
whether alimony should be terminated or modified in the case of cohabitation.
While we have had case law on cohabitation for many years, courts have
been inconsistent in how facts have been reviewed when cohabitation applications
have been brought before the court. The factors the court must now consider
include: (1) intertwined finances, such as joint bank accounts; (2) sharing
or joint responsibility for living expenses; (3) recognition of the relationship
in the couple’s social and family circle; (4) living together, the
frequency of contact, the duration of the relationship, and other indicia
of a mutually supportive intimate personal relationship; (5) sharing of
household chores; (6) whether the recipient of alimony has received an
enforceable promise of support from another person (i.e., palimony); and
(7) any other relevant evidence. Finally, the court cannot fail to find
cohabitation simply because the couple does not live together on a full-time basis.
The New Jersey Alimony attorneys at Previte & Nachlinger can help you
navigate this new law. If you have any questions about the new alimony
law and what it means for you, please call us to schedule a complimentary
consultation at (732) 479-4711.