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What will New Jersey’s updated alimony laws mean for you?

Governor Chris Christie recently signed into law substantial changes to New Jersey’s alimony provisions.

On September 10, 2014, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a bill that will bring sweeping changes to the state’s alimony laws. Prior to this bill, New Jersey’s alimony provisions were called “archaic” by some, and were widely considered to be among the most rigid in the country. Moving forward, the state’s new alimony (sometimes called “spousal support” or “spousal maintenance”) scheme will be more progressive and closer in line with that of neighboring states like New York and Pennsylvania.

The changes

Perhaps the biggest change to the way New Jersey family courts will handle spousal support cases concerns the issue of permanence. For years, advocates have fought to make changes to the way in which permanent alimony payments are awarded in the state. The newly adopted statute allows those paying alimony to request that payments be stopped or lowered upon reaching the federal retirement age of 67. This is in sharp contrast to years past, when a permanent alimony award was considered by many to be a “life sentence” (only ending upon the death of the paying party).

Marriage length now plays a larger role in making alimony determinations. Awards are now limited to, for marriages that have lasted less than 20 years, no longer than the length of the marriage. The new law does recognize that fairness might dictate that an award last a longer time, so the party seeking payments could request that they extended for “exceptional circumstances,” and judges will have discretion to make longer awards as warranted.

The new laws also address the issue of cohabitation. Under the prior law, there were guidelines about the possibility of stopping alimony payments if the person receiving them moved in with a new partner, but it was relatively easy to “game” the system. New provisions provide much more guidance for family court judges making determinations about when alimony awards should end.

Another notable change concerns modification of awards. Perhaps in deference to the country’s “Great Recession” of recent years, the revised spousal support laws make it easier to seek a downward departure in amount or a hiatus in making payments if the paying spouse loses his or her job. Whereas before, the paying spouse needed to be out of work for a year before requesting a modification, the new waiting period will be three months.

An important caveat

It is important to remember that the new alimony provisions aren’t retroactive in nature. This means that existing alimony obligations generally won’t be affected by the new laws. An exception to this is the issue of permanence; someone currently paying alimony does have the right to seek a modification of the terms of the award upon turning 67.

As impressive as these changes are, there are many in legal, judicial and political circles who don’t think the new laws go far enough. They argue that the old laws have made it possible for people to manipulate the system to get much higher, longer-lasting payments than they should have. Only time will tell if there are additional changes on the way. In the meantime, if you have questions about alimony – or you are divorcing and think that alimony might be an issue in your divorce – seek legal advice. When you visit the law firm of Iacullo and Martino for your family law matters, you will have the benefit of working with someone who has been named a Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney (a specialist in the area of family law) by the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Board on Attorney Certification.

Keywords: alimony, property division, divorce, spousal support, spousal maintenance