By Andrew L. Rochester, Esquire

Many of you may have seen in the news that there is an effort afoot in New Jersey to dramatically change the alimony statute. At present, a Court can award four types of alimony either individually or in combination based upon a review of thirteen factors. Alimony at present can either be permanent, limited duration (for a set period of time), rehabilitative (for a set period of time to allow a supported spouse to obtain education or training), or rehabilitative (a very rarely used type of alimony to allow a spouse to be compensated for contributing to the other spouse’s education).

While the current alimony statute provides thirteen factors for a Court to consider, there is no formula for either the length or the amount of the alimony. This is the most significant proposed change to alimony.

Many argue that courts now are too willing award alimony and that alimony awards are too long. This is a widely shared belief. The people who believe this do not fit into political categories or any particular set of demographics. Pending in both the State Assembly and Senate are Alimony Reform bills sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats. These bills, which at present have a very good chance of becoming law, make several significant and perhaps unintended changes to current alimony law. Alimony reform is generally opposed by family law attorneys although there is a vocal minority who do support reform.

The purpose of this two part article is to let you know what is coming.

The most well-known aspect of alimony reform is the elimination of what is known as permanent alimony. Generally, this is alimony until retirement absent some unforeseen substantial changed circumstance. Sometimes it extends even beyond retirement. The proposed alimony reform as it exists now creates a sliding scale for the duration of alimony and it includes a range for the calculation of alimony. Regarding the amount, it indicates that alimony should not exceed a recipient’s actual need for support or 30%-35% of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes. For those of you who are expecting a clear, hard and fast formula, there is not one. Just determining what constitutes “gross income” can sometimes require the assistance of accountants. The proposed law includes ten reasons to modify the percentage awarded for alimony so yes you still may need an attorney.

Regarding the duration of alimony, the proposal sets guidelines based upon the duration of the marriage. For example, should the marriage or civil union be five years or less, limited duration alimony would be permitted for up to one-half of the length of the marriage measured in months. As the marriage gets older the duration of alimony increases. For a marriage of fifteen to twenty years, the proposal would allow for an alimony award of up to 80% of the duration of the marriage measured in months. Thus, for a twenty year marriage, the alimony could be anywhere from zero to sixteen years. So again what many believe is a formula is really more of a set of guidelines. What the proposal does do for marriages of greater than twenty years is to allow for a Court to award “indefinite alimony,” which is very similar to what is now referred to permanent alimony.

One important change that this proposal does make with respect to all alimony awards is that it makes the alimony, except in unusual circumstances, terminate when the paying spouse reaches Social Security full retirement age, which at present is 66 years of age. Under current law, a paying spouse can argue that actual retirement constitutes a changed circumstance warranting a modification. Normally the modification would be either a total elimination of alimony or a substantial reduction should the court find the retirement to be in good faith. What the proposal does is to terminate alimony at Social Security full retirement age regardless of whether or not the paying spouse actually retires. As with everything else in the statute, the statute does allow exceptions to the rule and so again this is not a plug-and-play formula as many of the proponents of the bill make it seem.

In the next blog entry, I will discuss the other proposed changes to the alimony law. Please remember that every case is different and there are always exceptions to the rule. To speak with an experienced matrimonial attorney please contact Morgenstern & Rochester at (856)489-6200 to schedule a consultation.