New Jersey’s alimony law recently received some major modifications after two years of negotiations.
Signed by Governor Christie on September 10, the bill (A845/971/1649) has become known mainly for its substitution of permanent alimony with open durational alimony; however, there are a number of other significant changes worth noting.
Under the new law, for any marriage or civil union lasting less than 20 years, the duration of alimony cannot exceed the length of the marriage or civil union. For example, an alimony recipient from a marriage lasting 10 years would be entitled to a maximum payment period of 10 years. Certain exceptions apply, but are granted based on a set of considerations.
Some of these include: the age of both parties at the time of the marriage or civil union, the degree of dependency of one party on another, a spouse or partner who has a chronic illness or unusual health circumstance, whether a spouse or partner has given up a career or supported the career of the other, the impact of the marriage or civil union on either party’s ability to become self-supporting (including either’s responsibility as primary caretaker of a child), and any other factors or circumstances deemed relevant by the court.
Whereas the previous law dictated that permanent alimony should continue even after retirement, it will now terminate or be modified when the obligor reaches his or her prospective or actual retirement age. In this case, “full retirement age” is defined as the age at which a person is eligible for full benefits under the Social Security Act. If a person wishes to retire before this age, they must first demonstrate that they are doing so reasonably and in “good faith.”
Although the bill in its entirety applies mostly to future divorces, those who began paying permanent alimony before its enactment will be able to terminate payments upon reaching the full retirement age.
Loss of Income
Under the new law it is much easier for those paying alimony to reduce the amount of their payments should they become unemployed. An application to modify payments can be made if after 90 days the party remains involuntarily unemployed or has not found employment at his or her prior income level.
When considering an application by someone who is not self-employed, the court will take into account numerous factors, some of which include the reason for the loss of income, the effort made to obtain employment in any field or at any level, any severance compensation or award, the impact of the health of both parties on employment, and any other factors deemed relevant.
Any self-employed person’s application should include an analysis detailing the economic and non-economic benefits received from the business as compared to those received at the time of the initial alimony order.
Also of great significance is the court’s ability to suspend or terminate alimony if the recipient begins cohabitating with another person. Cohabitating in this sense is described in the bill as involving a “mutually supportive, intimate relationship,” and does not only apply to those couples who maintain a single common household. Although the previous law did order that payments stop when the payee begins cohabitating, the changes provide much stricter guidelines.
In addition to living together, factors such as intertwined finances (joint bank accounts, holdings or liabilities) and shared responsibility of living expenses are considered; however, less tangible factors will also be considered including the recognition of the relationship among family and friends, frequency of contact, duration of the relationship, sharing household chores, and other evidence relevant to establishing the presence of a marriage-like relationship.
Also to be taken into consideration is if the recipient has received “palimony,” which is defined as any enforceable promise of support from a partner.
The Future for New Jersey Alimony
Already ordered Alimony will not be disturbed. Alimony reform advocates would like to see more changes including retroactive modification of alimony orders. As for new orders, each case is fact sensitive and requires an analysis of the law and how it applies to the case.