By Andrew L. Rochester, Esquire
In the last article, I wrote about some of the more well-known aspects of the proposed alimony reform law in New Jersey. This article addresses the other proposed changes to alimony that have not gotten as much attention.
One significant change to the alimony statute applies to rehabilitative alimony. Rehabilitative alimony is alimony for a certain period of time to allow a spouse to obtain training or advance in their career to reach self-sufficiency. This modification of the alimony statute is not well publicized but its effects can be far reaching. The proposal would require that rehabilitative alimony awards, except in certain unusual circumstances, be limited to a maximum of five years which can only be extended in very limited circumstances. For most people, five years would be enough time to obtain a GED and an undergraduate college degree. There is no explanation in the law for this proposal but the majority of rehabilitative alimony awards right now are shorter than five years anyway.
One other significant but not widely understood change to the alimony law in the proposal is to define more clearly what is meant by “cohabitation”. Generally, alimony awards now are subject to modification or termination should the person receiving the alimony cohabit in a marriage-like relationship with another party. There are very few concrete guidelines as to what is meant by cohabitation under current law. Right now what happens in a cohabitating relationship is a very case specific, fact sensitive matter. Normally the paying spouse would file a Motion with the Court asserting that their former spouse is living with another person in a marriage-like relationship. If they can make an initial showing that this happening, the Court will then schedule the matter for a trial first to prove that the cohabitation is occurring and then to determine whether or not there is a financial benefit to the party receiving the alimony of the cohabitation. Right now it is the burden of the paying spouse to prove that there is cohabitation and it the burden of the recipient spouse to prove that there is not a financial benefit of the cohabitation.
The first thing that the proposal does is define “cohabitation” and it requires there to be at least three months of continuous cohabitation. For there to be cohabitation, the Court must find there to be a stable, permanent, mutually interdependent relationship with economic benefit to the spouse receiving the alimony.
It is unclear whether or not the proposed law intended to change the burdens of proof between the parties but the proposed law does do so. Under the current law, the paying spouse must show that there is cohabitation and the recipient spouse must show that there is not a financial benefit of the cohabitation. If the recipient spouse cannot prove that there is not economic benefit, the alimony is reduced or terminated. The proposed law will now require the paying spouse to prove both the act of cohabitation and prove that there is a financial benefit to the recipient spouse of the cohabitation. Although the purpose of the law was to simplify alimony, it may actually have made the law of cohabitation much more difficult and contentious.
While the purpose of this blog is not to argue for or against the proposed alimony reform, a few things are clear. Although the proponents of alimony reform want the public to believe that they are creating a clear alimony formula, they are not. There is still a lot of wiggle room especially when it comes to arguments regarding the length of the alimony. In addition, while providing some much needed clarity in the areas of rehabilitative alimony and cohabitation, the proposal does not turn those areas of law into fill in the blank check-off lists as advertised. There still will be a need for legal advocacy and preparation. That is where your choice of attorney becomes paramount. More than ever, you will need an attorney with substantial trial experience as we have here at Morgenstern & Rochester. You will need an attorney who is well versed in all of the ins and outs of both the current and proposed alimony statutes.
At Morgenstern & Rochester we have almost fifty combined years of matrimonial litigation experience and we are here to help you. If you have any questions, please contact Morgenstern & Rochester at (856)489-6200 to schedule a consultation.