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What is spousal support in New Jersey?

Spousal support is an area where judges have flexibility. However, there are some guidelines centering on the length of marriage, among other things.

In New Jersey, spousal support, also called alimony, looks much different than it did even 10 years ago. This is mostly because of a law that took effect in 2014. It is friendlier to unemployed payers, cracks down on cohabiting with a new partner while continuing to receive alimony and gets rid of lifetime spousal support. But what exactly is spousal support, and is it complicated?

Judges have wide latitude

Even with the 2014 revisions, two judges could decide the same alimony case very differently. No one should go to court confident in the expectation that he or she will receive spousal support, nor should anyone go to court thinking it is guaranteed that he or she will not have to pay.

Meditation is one way to reduce the uncertainty of a judge's ruling and to resolve a case as smoothly as possible. Another approach is to draw up a prenuptial agreement before marriage or to create a postnuptial agreement after marriage.

Factors that help determine alimony amounts

Judges typically look at factors such as the payer's income and ability to continue supporting himself or herself, how long the marriage lasted, the health of both spouses, what is necessary for the payee to become more financially independent and the conditions the couple lived in while married. For instance, a judge might not expect a partner who lived in a mansion during marriage to be happy with payments that would support only a tiny studio apartment.

Alimony and child support are different

Child support is more predictable, while alimony amounts can wildly vary. Moreover, child support is easier to enforce. Someone who needs the payer to follow through on an alimony agreement would likely need to ask the courts to enforce it.

What might end alimony

The ideal in many cases is that the payee becomes financially independent to the point where he or she no longer needs alimony. The alimony law now is not as easy to abuse as it used to be, but payments can still go on for years and years. In general, however, the alimony payments cannot exceed the length of a marriage as long as it was under 20 years. If a couple was married 10 years, the alimony payments would not exceed 10 years unless extraordinary circumstances applied.

Enlist the help of an attorney

New Jersey does not have clear black-and-white guidelines for judges to follow when it comes to alimony awards. In fact, judges have a lot of discretion, so it is a good idea for anyone whose divorce case involves alimony to meet with a lawyer.