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What changed in New Jersey’s alimony reform?

When the legislature and Gov. Christie amended New Jersey’s alimony statute in 2014, it was a game-changer. It brought predictability and sanity to a system that was at times arbitrary or unfair. The new rules aren’t perfect and are not always welcome news to divorcing spouses. Some think the reforms went too far, others not far enough.

It takes time for new and revised laws to be interpreted and clarified. Three years later, many legal questions relating to the “new” alimony statutes are still filtering through the courts. It is important to work with an attorney who is up to speed and who can apply the law in your favor. Read about the key changes to New Jersey alimony law.

Alimony is governed by statutory criteria

Under the old law, courts had more latitude in awarding (or not awarding) alimony. It could vary widely from county to county, and from one judge to the next. This made it difficult to predict what would happen, complicating divorce negotiations and encouraging litigation.

The overhauled alimony statute creates four categories of alimony and sets out 14 factors the court must consider in deciding the amount and duration of alimony, or if any is even merited. Two common scenarios are rehabilitative alimony (short-term support to allow a spouse to become financially independent) and reimbursement alimony (compensating a spouse for his or her sacrifices in the marriage).

Significant changes in New Jersey alimony law

Aside from the categories and the criteria, the new statute addressed a number of problems with the old law:

  • No more permanent alimony – New Jersey replaced “permanent” alimony with open duration alimony. It is awarded only in long-term marriages – defined as 20 or more years – in which there is also a significant disparity in the parties’ earning capacity.

  • Caps on alimony in shorter marriages – Marriages of less than 20 years are subject to limited duration alimony. Rather than open-ended support, it is awarded for a fixed number of years not to exceed the length of the marriage.

  • The right to retire – Many older people felt trapped by divorce, working into their 70s and beyond because they were still on the hook for alimony. Under the new law, alimony can be ended or reduced when the paying spouse reaches federal retirement age of 67. (However, a spouse cannot avoid alimony obligations by taking early retirement.)

  • You’re living together or you’re not – When an ex-spouse is remarried or cohabitating with a new partner, the paying spouse can petition to terminate alimony. The new law tightened loopholes, such as renting or reporting a “phantom” residence while actually living with the new partner, that allowed ex-spouses to continue receiving alimony payments.

  • Marital misconduct – Cheating and abuse are not among the statutory factors for determining alimony. But New Jersey courts can consider infidelity, reckless spending, domestic violence or substance abuse in adjusting alimony. For example, if a spouse spent thousands in marital assets on affairs, or was chronically underemployed, the court might increase or decrease alimony accordingly.

  • Unemployment – Under the old law, courts would not lower alimony unless the payer had been out of work for a year or more. Under the revised law, the paying spouse can petition the court for modification after 90 days of unemployment.

While the statute is clearer, judges still have discretion in applying the 14 factors, and there are countless complicating factors. It is important to consult an experienced divorce attorney from the outset to address financial issues, including temporary support (alimony pendent lite) which may be awarded during divorce proceedings.

Source:  New Jersey Statute 2A:34-23 – Alimony, maintenance

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