New Jersey Alimony Reform Creates Much Needed Guidelines, But Still Allows Broad Judicial Discretion

Alimony PaymentsAlimony reform has brought sweeping changes to the way New Jersey judges evaluate alimony arrangements. This legislation creates guidelines to encourage predictability and fairness in divorce and separation proceedings. Although courts must adhere to these general guidelines, judges still retain a great deal of discretion in deciding cases. Therefore, you should talk to a New Jersey divorce attorney who can advocate strongly on your behalf.

New Jersey alimony reform creates mandatory criteria that judges must use when evaluating the amount and duration of alimony payments. The reform law also eliminates “permanent alimony” and calculates the duration of alimony payments based upon the length of the marriage. Finally, the law clarifies three circumstances that permit alimony to be reduced, suspended, or terminated.

Prior to alimony reform, judges used their own criteria to evaluate alimony cases. This made it difficult to predict financial outcomes, so the legislature created 13 mandatory criteria designed to promote greater uniformity among judges. These criteria include a number of factors, including the parties’ financial needs, earning power, assets, and past standard of living, the age and health of both parties, the dependent party’s need for education and training, and one party’s past sacrifice for the career advancement of the other. Judges are given broad discretion when it comes to administering these criteria, and judges are also free to consider “any other factors” that are deemed relevant.

In place of “permanent alimony,” the new law provides “limited duration” alimony for people whose marriage or civil union lasted for less than 20 years and “open durational” alimony for people whose marriage or civil union lasted for 20 years or more.

If the marriage or civil union lasted less than 20 years, the law calls for “limited duration alimony,” which should not exceed the length of the marriage or civil union. But a judge may still exercise discretion and extend alimony payments indefinitely. In evaluating these exceptional circumstances, a judge must consider the ages of the parties, the parties’ dependency on each other, health circumstances, child support situations, property division, and tax ramifications. The judge must also consider whether one party has sacrificed in order to support the career of the other party.

If the marriage or civil union lasted 20 years or more, a judge can order “open durational alimony.” This alimony is similar to the old concept of “permanent alimony,” except that it can be terminated or suspended when the obligor retires or suffers a reduction in income, or when the payment recipient begins cohabitating with someone.

Alimony payments generally terminate upon reaching full retirement age. Under certain circumstances, however, an alimony recipient can argue hardship due to his or her age, health, earning abilities, and financial position, and a judge can set a different alimony termination date.

Alimony can also be suspended or terminated when an alimony recipient cohabitates with someone else. A judge must hear evidence of cohabitation, such as intertwined finances, shared responsibility for living expenses, recognition of the relationship in the couple’s social and family circle, living together, the duration of the relationship, sharing household chores, and the existence of a “promise of support,” as well as any other relevant evidence.

If an obligor experiences a job loss or reduction in income that lasts 90 days or more, he or she can apply for relief from the regularly scheduled alimony obligations. The obligor can apply for a modification of alimony that can reduce or suspend payments during this time of financial hardship.

Alimony reform does not alter alimony agreements that are already in place. However, the rules regarding retirement, job loss, and cohabitation may still apply to some existing alimony arrangements. It is important to understand that the new law creates guidelines and criteria used in alimony decisions, but this does not eliminate judicial discretion. This law does not reduce complex divorce cases to a simple set of “formulas.” Skilled representation still plays a critical role in alimony cases. For this reason, you should consult an attorney who understands New Jersey divorce law.

An alimony settlement can affect your finances for years to come, but emotional factors can make it difficult to fully assess your own alimony rights. The experienced lawyers at Goldstein Law Group can help you understand your rights. Speak to a New Jersey divorce attorney who can explain your case. Call 732-967-6777, or use the contact link on this page to request a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Termination of Alimony Payments in New Jersey,  August 27, 2014

Determining Custody After a Domestic Violence Trial in Which a Final Restraining Order is Entered in New Jersey,  August 5, 2014

How do I Oppose a Motion to Terminate Or Modify a Support Obligation in New Jersey?  August 4, 2014