Cipora Winters, a family lawyer in Bradley Beach, New Jersey, answers:
The major change in the new statute refers to the duration of alimony. New Jersey always had a very broad approach to alimony. There were 14 statutory factors as to how alimony should be computed, including the age and health of the parties, the disparity in income, the length of the marriage, and the standard of living of the marriage. None of those factors were formulaic, so every alimony case was unique and could go in any direction.
The new statute provides us with some guidance and boundaries for the duration of alimony. For any marriage lasting less than 20 years, the duration of alimony cannot exceed the number of the years of the marriage. If you’ve been married for five years, for example, you’ll be paying for (or receiving) alimony for zero to five years – but no more than five years. If you’ve been married for 10 years, alimony can last from zero to 10 years – but no more than 10 years.
Another difference in the new statute is that when alimony is calculated, the paying spouse will receive a credit for the pendente lite support (which is support paid during the pendency of the action), so all support paid will be credited against the final alimony number. This is important because some divorces can take a long time to settle – especially when there are custody disputes or complex issues regarding valuation of businesses or pensions, for example. Before the new statute, there were situations where spouses were paying alimony for the duration of the divorce process – which might have taken months or even years – and they did not get a credit for those payments following the divorce.
The third and most important part of the reformed statute deals with retirement and alimony. Once somebody retires at their good-faith retirement age, which is presumptively when they receive social security, alimony should terminate. So the revised statute not only provides a termination ceiling on the length of alimony for any marriage under 20 years, but it also provides a ceiling for how long alimony should be paid – which is until the presumptive retirement age.
Of course, there are factors built into this statute allowing a court to review a divorcing couple’s circumstances; in exceptional circumstances, the court can diverge from these new guidelines. However, the formulaic approach to alimony computation should help parties who want to resolve their alimony issues quickly and quietly.
A partner at Keith, Winters & Wenning, LLC, Cipora Winters has been exclusively practicing family and matrimonial law for almost 20 years in New Jersey and New York. She has the knowledge and experience to help