Last fall, Governor Christie signed a bill reforming New Jersey’s alimony law. The alimony reform changes generally apply prospectively, and not for in-place agreements or judgments. If you were currently paying or receiving alimony as of September, 2014, when the Governor signed the bill, you are mostly unaffected, but the new law may be relevant to for in-place agreements or judgments in come circumstances.
Alimony Reform Features
- So-called permanent alimony was eliminated, and a new alimony category was created – open duration alimony. Now there are four types of alimony: open duration, limited duration, rehabilitative and reimbursement. Open duration alimony is now limited to 20-year-plus marriages. For marriages shorter than 20 years, the alimony term cannot exceed the marriage length, barring exceptional circumstances. I say that permanent alimony was “so -called” because it was always subject to modification or elimination based on the paying spouse’s retirement, the recipient’s remarriage, or other factors.
- The statute explicitly addresses the paying spouse’s retirement, and acknowledges the assumption that the paying spouse will not have an alimony obligation after reaching retirement age. Retirement age is generally defined by Social Security rules.
- The statute identifies specific rules for modifying alimony based on a changes of circumstance. If a non-self employed spouse want to modify alimony, the court must investigate the reasons for reduced income and the efforts to become employed at the previous level. If the paying spouse become unemployed, this spouse can apply to the court for an alimony change after being unemployed for 90 days.
- The statute contains explicit provisions to modify or terminate alimony if the recipient spouse cohabits with another person. The court will look at intertwined finances, joint responsibility for expenses, the length of the relationship and other factors. They court may not reject a finding of cohabitation merely because the recipient spouse does not live with the other person full-time.
It may seem that the new law only favors the paying spouse and hurts the recipient spouse, but I don’t agree. The new law adds more certainty, and many things are no longer left to chance or the biases or opinions of a specific family court judge. When the spouses negotiate, the negotiation will occur with clearer rules. Clearer rules benefit both spouses. Nasty surprises years after your divorce will occur much less frequently, if at all. And if litigation is needed, the litigation will be more focused.
As always, you should seek and experienced attorney’s advice – preferably me.