The answer is: it depends. I know, I know, those two words are a common favorite among lawyers and hated among litigants. There are several factors, however, that determine whether a supporting spouse can terminate or reduce his or her alimony obligation upon retirement.
The purpose of alimony is to maintain the supported spouse at the standard of living he or she enjoyed during the marriage. According to New Jersey statute, alimony terminates upon the death of either party, the remarriage of the supported spouse or after the number of years specified in the Judgment of Divorce. Other than those stated reasons, an award of alimony will continue until a Court enters an Order otherwise.
To obtain a Court Order modifying a support obligation, the payor spouse must show that there has been a substantial change in circumstances warranting such a modification. New Jersey courts have consistently held that the good faith retirement at age 65 of the supporting spouse may constitute such a change. The word “may” is the key word in that sentence. One who voluntarily retires at age 65 is not automatically entitled to a termination of a support obligation, only an inquiry or a hearing on the issue.
The main inquiry the court will make is whether the advantage to the retiring spouse substantially outweighs the disadvantage to the supported spouse. Only if the Court answers that question in the affirmative will the retirement be viewed as a legitimate reason to modify a support obligation.
The Court must weigh all of the relevant factors in determining whether there should be modification or termination. Some factors the court will consider include: the age and health of the parties; how the pensions and retirement assets were divided; whether the retirement was reasonable; ability to continue to pay support and the supported spouse’s ability to support him or herself. If a payor spouse retires before the age of 65, then he or she is subject to a more rigid standard to have alimony terminated.
Even if the court does find that there should be some type of modification, retirement, even at the age of 65, does not guarantee a total termination of alimony. It is possible for the court to only grant a reduction in support. Each case is unique and revolves around its own set of facts. Instead of going to Court, you and your attorney may decide to enter into an Agreement with your former spouse for a reduction in your alimony obligation when you retire. Together, you and your attorney must weigh the costs at stake, both financial and emotional and determine the right path for you.
Erin B. Schneiderman is a New Jersey divorce lawyer with the firm of Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group,LLC. in Parsippany, New Jersey, where she practices family and matrimonial law.