This is difficult a question that, as a New Jersey Divorce attorney, I have to answer on nearly a daily basis and I have been doing so for a number of years. New client's often walk in my office completely heartbroken. Sometimes they are in a state of shock or a deep depression. Other times they can hardly control their rage after the betrayal of being cheated on. Then, if during our divorce consultation I determine that this client has alimony exposure, I take a deep breath, tell them harsh reality of alimony, and then explain why.
The lead case is Mani vs. Mani 183 N.J. 70 (2005), which clearly states that marital fault plays no role UNLESS "egregious" conduct can be proven on the part of the other spouse. At this juncture of our meeting, my client will ask, "but they cheated on me, what could be more egregious than that?" I then have to exclaim that while I truly empathize with being betrayed (it is the reason that I divorced my wife three years ago), infidelity under the Mani case does not amount to the type of egregious behavior that Mani was meant as an exception to the strict general law that marital fault is not a factor when determining NJ alimony in a divorce case.
In fact, the Mani case specifically discounts adultery as an "egregious act," no matter how often, how long, with how many or even where (such as a public place!). Now, after the burden of proving that any in any given NJ Divorce case that a claim for alimony has been met, the Mani case did provide us with two examples in order to demonstrate what the Supreme Court of New Jersey meant by "egregiousness" conduct. The first example is if one spouse unsuccessfully attempted to murder the supporting spouse. The second example would be if one spouse deliberately infected the supporting spouse with a loathsome disease. Clearly, these two examples are extreme and it is the opinion of this New Jersey Divorce Lawyer that the Supreme Court of New Jersey intentionally used these two wild examples in order to make it very clear that "fault" will rarely be considered when making alimony determinations in cases involving adultery.
However, last year a new case came out which provided yet another example of egregious conduct. In Clark vs. Clark, the wife, who would have been the supported spouse in this situation, was proven to have stolen nearly $350,000 from the "family" business. Here, the NJ Supreme Court found that this "violated social norms" and violated the "vow of marriage" with deception of great magnitude in light of the large amount of money that she stole from the family business. Therefore, in this case, the wife's egregious conduct would be considered and very well may impact the amount of alimony, if any, she shall receive.
Is this the beginning of a new trend? As I said when in the beginning of this blog, there are countless people out there getting divorced who feel that is it just downright unfair that they should have to support an "ex-spouse" after they treated them so horrendously. It will be interesting to see how the New Jersey's law regarding "fault" and "alimony" continues to evolve. Please feel free to contact my office to discuss how this may affect your particular circumstances.