Thursday, January 21, 2016
How do the recent changes in the alimony laws in NJ affect you?
This article summarizes some of the recent changes and how they modify past law on the awarding of alimony
What used to be permanent alimony is now going to mainly consist of open durational alimony unless one has been married for twenty years or more. The recent changes in the law limit alimony to the length of the marriage for those married nineteen years or less.
Rehabilitative alimony is described as alimony paid to the awarded spouse to permit that person to enter the work force or to upgrade his or her employable skills. Reimbursement alimony is awarded for the spouse who may have paid for the education of their partner to get a trade or degree. For instance if one spouse paid for the other to get a law or medical degree, that spouse is entitled to reimbursement. The court weighs factors in deciding what type of how much support should be provided. These may include the need and ability to pay of the parties; the age, physical and emotional health of the parties; earning capabilities; amount of time out of the job market and other factors, Added to the revised law was the consideration of any pendite lite support that may have been paid by one spouse to the other. Pendite lite support means any spousal support that came before the judgment of divorce. The court must also provide specific findings of fact when making an alimony award and cite the statutory factors that were relevant and the weight employed.
The biggest change in the law was that for any marriage (or civil union) less than 20 years in duration, the alimony will not exceed that of the length of the marriage or civil union except in exceptional circumstances. This means if you were married for nineteen years expect nineeteen years of alimony whereas if you were only married for five years, the award could not exceed five years of alimony. The court is also to consider factors such as the need to maintain separate households and other factors concerning each parties future standard of living, post divorce. An exceptional circumstance where the court may exceed the durational limits is where one spouse has a chronic illness; where one party received a disproportionate share in equitable distribution; the role of being a caretaker for a child, and a variety of other factors.
Previously to the recent change in the law, when an obligor spouse is ready to retire, that person must file a motion with the court showing a change of circumstances requiring a modification of alimony. However, now the statute says there is a rebuttable presumption that alimony may be modified or terminated upon the prospective retirement of the obligor when that person has reached "full" retirement age. Arrearages are not modified but future payments may be modified. If a person seeks to retire before they have reached their full retirement age they shall have the burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence to show that they wish to retire in good faith. In other words, if your husband is eligible to retire at 65 and he chooses to retire at age 45 to go and live in the Bahamas, that is not a good faith reason to retire. However, a disability that keeps that person from working may be. Other factors may be influential as well, such as employer incentive programs to get employees to retire early in exchange for some benefit, etc.
If you were awarded permanent alimony before the law was passed in September 2014, nothing would change the obligor's responsibility to continue payment. Also, if there are provisions in a property settlement agreement or final judgment of divorce that contradict any of these changes, then those terms would remain enforceable. For instance, if a PSA says that the spouse continues to pay alimony post-retirement, then the obligation remains.
Another major change is the effect of cohabitation. The new section states that the court shall consider the length of time of a relationship in a former spouse's cohabitation in determining if alimony should be suspended or terminated. It adds that a court may not find the absence of cohabitation "solely on grounds that the couple does not live together on a full-time basis."
For a full text of the bill see below.