The issue of alimony reform in divorce has been a hot topic for the past few years, likely because the entire concept of alimony can be difficult for most people to comprehend. Finally, the law with regards to alimony in New Jersey has changed with the passing of an alimony reform bill.
Prior to the enactment of the current reformed alimony bill, there were numerous proposed versions which would have created more dramatic changes to alimony calculations in New Jersey. As such, it is as important to know what the new bill does not include, as knowing what it does include. The new bill does not include a formula for determining either the length or amount of alimony based upon length of marriage and differences in income. Instead, the bill eliminates permanent alimony, in favor of open durational alimony. However, the bill does go further, in that absent proving exceptional circumstances (based upon the factors set forth in the bill), for marriages less than 20 years the term of alimony should not exceed the length of the marriage.
Also of importance, the current reformed alimony bill does not include a provision for retroactive application, as had been proposed in other versions of alimony reform bills. As such, for individuals who have already set their alimony terms prior to the enactment of the new alimony bill, there is no mechanism under which you can revisit the alimony determination prospectively.
In addition to altering the mechanism for making current determinations of alimony, the alimony reform bill incorporates significant changes to the potential grounds for terminating or suspending alimony. More specifically, the reformed alimony bill provides for a presumption that alimony will cease upon a party reaching normal retirement age (i.e., when the individual is eligible to receive Social Security), with factors to consider when a request to retire prior to normal retirement age is presented. In addition, the reformed alimony bill includes a specific provision as it pertains to terminating alimony based upon the cohabitation of the individual receiving alimony.
One of the most significant changes relates to a request to modify alimony based upon a change of circumstances resulting from loss of employment or significant reduction in income. More specifically, a judge would have the ability to reduce, terminate or suspend payments when the person paying alimony has been unemployed for 90 days. The decision whether to reduce, terminate or suspend alimony will be made based upon a review of specific factors set forth in the statute, with different considerations for self-employed individuals who suffer a reduction in income.
Overall, while many may argue that the reformed alimony bill did not do enough to constrict the alimony obligations for individuals in New Jersey, the new law is a major step forward in bringing clarity to a parties’ rights and obligations and creating a more equitable alimony calculus. The full impact of the new alimony bill cannot be comprehensively reviewed within the confines of this article. As such, if you believe the new law impacts your rights or obligations as it pertains to alimony, either in a pending divorce or in a post-judgment context, contact an experienced family law attorney today.