As you may have heard last month Governor Christie signed a bill into law that has resulted in major overhaul to alimony laws in our state. This is one of a series of blogs I shall be sharing to inform the public of all of the different changes that have occurred to New Jersey alimony laws. Today, we shall discuss one of the most controversial and significant changes; the elimination of “permanent alimony.”
In all of my years as a New Jersey divorce lawyer, some of the most difficult conversations I have had with my client’s are when I had to advise them that they had permanent alimony exposure. Many would then ask me, “Does that mean I am not allowed to ever retire?” And in many cases, my response was “well, it depends.” At that point we would then go into a detailed analysis as to the many factors that would dictate my ultimate legal opinion. But now the law is clearer.
Now, the term “permanent alimony” has been officially stricken from the books, as they say. The term Permanent alimony has been replaced by a new legal term; Open durational alimony. That not only sounds more kind that Permanent, but more importantly, the changes in the law are meaningful, practically speaking.
Specially, where retirement age used to be ambiguous and unclear under NJ alimony laws, it is now clear; 67 years old. This is the age in which a person eligible to receive full retirement benefits under the federal social security act. Before New Jersey’s alimony laws were modified, some folks were forced to work well into there 70s. This is the primary reason that I feel the amendments to the law are much more fair. Just from an emotional standpoint, it is essential to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. My experience has also dictated that, under the prior law, the deck was stacked against the person trying to terminate or lower their alimony payments. However, under the new law, there is a “rebuttable presumption” that at age 67, this individual should be relieved of their alimony obligation.
Another significant change in that if a marriage or civil union lasted less than 20 years, the term of alimony cannot exceed the length of the marriage. Before, in a majority of the cases I have handled in my nearly 20 years usually meant Permanent alimony (unless the parties had married when they were very young). Once again, this amendment is not only much more clear, but also in my opinion it is much more reasonable.
I should note that a New Jersey Family Court could extend the period of alimony payments in a case with “Exceptional circumstances, “A good example of “exceptional circumstances” would be if one of the parties to the divorce were receiving Social Security Disability benefits from the federal government.
It is important to note that this new law takes effect immediately and does not allow for modification of previous Final Judgment of Divorce, or subsequent Court Orders. While I have spoken with many of the New Jersey divorce attorneys who actually drafted the new alimony laws, ultimately I feel this was both a compromise in order to achieve other goals related to the new law. Otherwise, the entire bill would have died.
As my office shall continue to the Family Courts to see how they evaluate and apply this new alimony law in New Jersey, please do not ever hesitate to call, email, or follow my blog and YouTube channel for continual updates.