What the New Alimony Law in New Jersey Means for You
On September 10, 2014, Governor Chris Christie signed an alimony reform bill into law, which makes significant changes to the New Jersey alimony statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23. While the new law does not create alimony guidelines, it imposes restrictions on the duration of alimony and provides guidance on when alimony may be reduced, suspended or terminated. If you are going through or are contemplating a divorce, you should review these highlights to the new alimony statute:
- For any marriage or civil union that has lasted less than 20 years, the length of alimony may not exceed the length of the marriage or civil union. For example, if a marriage lasted 12 years, the supported spouse may not receive alimony for any longer than 12 years. An exception has been carved out for “exceptional circumstances.” Common exceptional circumstances are a spouse’s chronic illness or a spouse’s need to care for a disabled child into the child’s adulthood.
- The term “permanent” alimony was removed from the alimony statute and replaced with the term “open durational” alimony. This change in terminology removes the stigma associated with permanent alimony, which often makes paying spouses feel like they will be paying alimony for the rest of their lives. Open durational alimony acknowledges that there is no set end date to alimony, but that it is not necessarily permanent in nature.
- The new law presumes that alimony terminates once the paying spouse reaches “full retirement age” (currently 67 years old if he or she was born in 1960 or after). This is a rebuttable presumption, which means that the spouse receiving alimony may show that there is good cause for the paying spouse to pay alimony after obtaining full retirement age. The new law also sets forth a framework for determining whether alimony can be modified or terminated prior to the paying spouse attaining full retirement age.
- For paying spouses who want to modify or terminate their alimony obligations due to unemployment or a decrease in income, the new law directs the paying spouse to wait at least 90 days from the date of unemployment or decrease in income to file an application with the court. However, the new law gives the court the ability to reduce or terminate alimony retroactive to the date of unemployment or reduction in income.
- Finally, the new alimony statute includes specific language regarding the suspension or termination of alimony due to the receiving spouse’s cohabitation with another person. While many ex-spouses maintain separate residences from their significant others to avoid a finding of cohabitation, the new law specifically states that “A court may not find an absence of cohabitation solely on the grounds that the couple does not live together on a full-time basis.” N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(n).