Last night, Governor Christie signed into law amendments that radically alters New Jersey Alimony laws. These momentous amendments are effective immediately. Over my nearly 2 decades as a New Jersey divorce attorney, I would occasionally hear rumblings about changing New Jersey’s “outdated” alimony laws. However, back in 2011 when I had the opportunity to speak with Thomas Leustek, the founder of New Jersey Alimony Reform, I immediately sensed that, this time, something was different. Well, my gut instinct was apparently correct. So what are the changes to New Jersey alimony laws? Let’s explore.
1. What has been changed?
• “Permanent Alimony” is no longer recognized in New Jersey and has replaced with “Open Durational Alimony.” This is perhaps the biggest change in New Jersey Alimony laws. No longer is there a presumption that alimony should be permanent, which most folks in New Jersey found to be outdated, unfair and draconian. The net effect is that this new legislation essentially ends permanent alimony in our state;
• One’s ability to have alimony stopped if the recipient is cohabiting with a new partner has been greatly enhanced. While a judge of the New Jersey Family Court would still have to consider many factors (i.e., the finances of the people living together, how long have they been together and even the sharing of household chores), there is now one major new difference. As opposed to the old law, a New Jersey Family Court judge would not be able to decline an application to reduce or terminate alimony even if the couple is not residing together all of the time;
• If a marriage lasted less than twenty years, alimony payments cannot go beyond the actual length that the folks were married. “Exceptional circumstances” would have to be found be a Court in order to deviate from this new law. It remains to be seen what “exceptional circumstances” shall ultimately represent legally under the amended New Jersey Alimony laws. Having said that, it is my legal opinion that it will be extremely rare for a judge to find such circumstances existing in a vast majority of New Jersey divorces;
• New Jersey Family Court’s now have a much greater ability to modify alimony. To wit, if the person who has been paying alimony is involuntarily unemployed for 90 days, they may file for termination or modification of their alimony obligations. Under the old law, 90 days usually was not deemed “long enough” by most N.J. family law judges to warrant any change.
2. What aspects of New Jersey alimony law did not change even though many New Jerseyans sought such amendments?
• Many advocates sought to have the aforementioned limits to New Jersey alimony laws to be applicable to those who are already paying. This did not occur because, as in any negotiation, one side must surrender certain issues in order to reach a compromise and achieve most of their goals. An exception here is that the new law will apply to these folks once they reach “full retirement age” at the age of 67;
• Many involved with New Jersey Alimony Reform sought exact and precise guidelines with respect to how long and how much a party must pay alimony in any New Jersey divorce case. For example, if a marriage lasted between 5 and 10 years, the length of alimony would never be more than 60% of the amount of months that the marriage lasted. As the Family Law Section of the New Jersey State Bar felt that each divorce matter still must be dealt with on a “case by case” basis in order to ensure a “fair and equitable” outcome, “alimony guidelines” did not make its way into the ultimate amendments of New Jersey Alimony laws.
While clearly you can never make everyone “happy” when negotiating a complex piece of legislation, my legal opinion is that this is a fair compromise. To that end, as an experienced New Jersey divorce lawyer, I agree that these changes bring our alimony laws up-to-date and more reflective of the many cultural and financial changes to our society over the years. Of course, if you or a loved one is facing a potential divorce or you are presently paying alimony, please contact my office to discuss your situation.