New Jersey may see alimony reform

A proposed bill awaiting Gov. Christie’s signature would enact significant changes to New Jersey’s alimony laws.

On June 30, 2014, the New Jersey Senate passed a bill that reflected more than two years of debate surrounding reforming the state's spousal support laws. The New Jersey assembly passed the bill the week before the Senate did, and the bill now awaits Gov. Christie's signature to become law. The bill would institute many changes to spousal support awards in New Jersey going forward.

Length of spousal support

One of the most notable changes that the bill would enact would be to prohibit the duration of spousal support payments from exceeding the length of the marriage for marriages that lasted fewer than 20 years, barring "exceptional circumstances." Some of the circumstances listed in the bill include when a spouse has a chronic illness, one spouse received a greater share of the marital estate or a spouse gave up a career to support the other spouse's career. The bill also changes the term "permanent alimony" to "open durational alimony."

The bill emphasizes that neither spouse is entitled to a higher standard of living than what they had during the marriage. The bill also requires the court to review evidence relating to all of the statutory factors for determining alimony awards, with no factor carrying more weight than the others unless the court issues written findings of fact and conclusions of law determining that certain factors carry greater weight. The court would also consider pendente lite payments paid during the divorce proceedings when determining alimony amounts and duration.

Modifying or terminating support

The bill would make it easier to petition for modifying or terminating alimony payments. A spouse would be able to petition for terminating alimony if the other spouse is co-habitating with someone. Currently, a person's alimony obligation only ends if the recipient remarries - even if the recipient is living with someone else. The bill would also let a payor petition for modification of the alimony award amount if he or she has been involuntarily unemployed for 90 days or longer.

Retirement

The bill would establish a rebuttable presumption that alimony payments end when the payor reaches the age at which he or she could receive full retirement benefits under the Social Security Act - currently 67 years old. If the payor intends to retire early, he or she has the burden of showing that it is being done in good faith and not as an attempt to end the alimony obligation.

Alimony cases are very fact-specific and can be contentious. The proposed changes to New Jersey's alimony laws will not reduce the need for a skilled alimony attorney to assist with alimony cases. An experienced alimony lawyer can help protect your interests and make sure that the alimony award is fair. If you have questions about alimony, contact a seasoned alimony attorney for assistance.

Keywords: Alimony; spousal support; divorce