Recent Changes to New Jersey Alimony Laws

The legislature has modified the existing alimony law after many years of debate. The modifications address the concerns of many that alimony awards have become a life sentence for many. As a result the concept of permanent alimony has been deleted from the law. For any marriage or civil union less than 20 years in duration the length of alimony in years shall not exceed the length of the marriage except in exceptional circumstances. For example, if you are married for five years the alimony term cannot exceed five years except in exceptional circumstances. Exceptional circumstances are defined in the law. The exceptional circumstances are:

  1. The age of the parties
  2. The degree and duration of the dependency of one party on the other
  3. Whether a spouse has a chronic illness
  4. Whether a spouse has given up a career or supported the career of the other spouse
  5. Whether a spouse has received more of the marital estate
  6. The impact of the marriage on either parties' ability to become self-supporting, including responsibility as the primary caretaker of a child
  7. Tax considerations
  8. Any other factor the court deems relevant

The new law also states that the court must consider the "practical impact" of the parties' need for separate residences on the ability of both parties to maintain a standard of living reasonably comparable to the standard of living during the marriage. Both parties have an equal right to maintain that standard of living.

For parties married more than 20 years, the court can award what is now called "open durational" alimony. It is no longer intended to be permanent and will end at some time. However, there is no restriction like in marriages under 20 years. Usually, it will end at retirement of the payor. This is a significant change in the law as previously alimony could continue even after retirement. The law states that there is a rebuttable presumption that alimony will terminate upon the obligor reaching full retirement age as defined by Social Security. The law sets forth how the rebuttable presumption can be overcome and alimony should continue. Some of the factors are the age of the parties, the health of the parties, duration of the alimony already paid, sources of income of both parties, whether the recipient has obtained full retirement age and any other retirement factors. Any individual currently paying alimony can at their Social Security retirement age (most likely 67) retire and petition the court to terminate alimony. Payors now have hope in being able to retire without the burden of a continuing alimony obligation.

Payors also will be able to seek relief from the court if they lose their job, or have been unable to return to work, or have a reduction in income. Prior to the law being changed payors would often file an application based upon loss of job and the court would deny a reduction as the unemployment was considered temporary. Now the law suggests that 90 days is a reasonable time for the court to consider such an application. Further, now a modification or termination of alimony based upon a change in circumstances can be retroactive to the date of loss of employment or reduction of income.

Payors can also find relief under the new law if the payee cohabitates with another person. The court may suspend or terminate alimony if a payee cohabitates with another person. The law provides that cohabitation "involves a mutually supportive, intimate personal relationships in which a couple has undertaken duties and privileges that are commonly associated with a marriage or civil union but does not necessarily maintain a single common household." This is a significant change in the law as the party receiving alimony does not "necessarily" have to maintain a single common household. So this opens the door to applications even if the supported spouse and their significant other maintain separate residences. The law sets forth seven factors the court shall consider in assessing cohabitation. Some of the factors include: intertwined finances, such as a joint bank account, sharing living expenses, recognition of the relationship by family, etc., and living together including frequency of contact, etc.

There are significant changes to the law and you may be entitled to relief if you are already paying alimony. Also, if you are contemplating divorce you should be aware of your rights and obligations regarding receiving or payment of alimony. Contact our Monmouth County attorneys at Wernik & Salvatore to help you understand the changes to the law. Call us to schedule a consultation at 732-888-3338.