Joseph Cadicina, a family lawyer in Morristown, answers:
There has been much discussion and attempts to modify the alimony statute in New Jersey. In fact, the New Jersey Legislature recently proposed bills in both houses: the assembly proposed Assembly Bill number A3909 and the senate proposed Senate Bill 82750. The proposed bills were intended to revise the alimony laws – including eliminating permanent alimony and establishing guidelines for the duration and amount of alimony awards.
The New Jersey State Bar Association opposed the legislation. In addition, the New Jersey Association of Justice also testified against the bills. Both organizations propose that a commission study be established in order to review the legislation in order to properly address the concern and issues.
The proposed legislation was based on the Massachusetts alimony statute. The key components to the proposed legislation were intended to establish a standard by regulating the amount of limited duration alimony one would receive to 30-35% of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes established at the time of the initial award.
In addition, the term of the limited duration alimony would be based upon the number of years married. For example, if the parties were married or in a civil union for five years or less, the alimony would not be greater than one-half of the number of months of the marriage or civil union. If the parties were married or in a civil union for more than five years and less than ten years, then the alimony term would not be greater than 60% of the number of months of the marriage or civil union. If the parties were married for more than ten years but less than 15 years, the term would be not greater than 70% of the number of months of the marriage or civil union. If the marriage or civil union was greater than fifteen years, but less than 20 years, then the alimony term would not be greater than 80% of the number of months of the marriage or civil union. Finally, if the duration of the marriage or civil union is greater than 20 years, the court shall have discretion to award alimony for indefinite length of time.
The proposed legislation also sought to limit rehabilitative alimony to a term not to exceed five years unless:
- there were unforeseen events preventing the payee from being self-supporting at the end of the term,
- the payee endeavoured to become self-supporting, and
- extending rehabilitative alimony would not constitute an undue burden on the payor.
The proposed legislation also sought to clarify cohabitation as a basis for a change of circumstance by allowing the court to modify, suspend, or terminate an award of limited duration of alimony when the payor ex-spouse or ex-partner shows the payee has maintained a cohabitation relationship with another person for a continuous period of at least three months.
However, the award could be reinstated upon termination of the cohabitation relationship. If reinstated during the duration of the award, then the duration could not be extended beyond the termination date of the original order. The bill also sought to define the period of cohabitation as a continuous period of at least three months.
Another important alimony issue that the Legislature attempted to clarify was retirement as a basis for termination of alimony. The proposed legislation called for the termination of alimony upon the payor spouse or partner obtaining full retirement age defined as when the payor is eligible for the old-age retirement benefit under the Federal Social Security Act. This would have made alimony automatically terminate upon retirement instead of requiring the filing an application with the Court for a termination upon retirement.
The future for alimony in New Jersey is still under review, but for now. the current alimony statute remains in effect.
Joseph P. Cadicina Esq. is a Morristown divorce and family law attorney, mediator and arbitrator in New Jersey. He can be reached at Cadicina Law, LLC, (973) 270-9166. www.cadicinalaw.com