Sweeping Changes Come to New Jersey’s Alimony Scheme

Governor Chris Christie signed into law a bill that brings significant changes to the state’s alimony laws.

A long-awaited update to New Jersey’s alimony statutes means that big change is ahead for divorcing couples whose settlements might include spousal support. The state’s alimony laws have long been considered outdated, particularly in light of recent revisions to similar statutes in the neighboring states of New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, but Governor Chris Christie recently signed into law a bill that includes sweeping changes that will help modernize the way our state handles spousal support.

Background

Alimony reform has been a hot-button political and social topic in the state for several years now. Entire lobbying organizations – like New Jersey Alimony Reform – have been established to persuade lawmakers to update laws they have long been seen as archaic and outdated. According to such organizations, the old laws were mostly remnants from generations past, when the workplace was dominated by men and many women stayed home to raise a family instead of pursuing a career. In all likelihood, the picture probably wasn’t as dire as lobbyists have made it seem, but lawmakers finally agreed that changes were necessary.

The recently adopted new alimony provisions take into account today’s job market, where nearly half of the workers are women, and a third of women are the primary breadwinner in their homes. It is important to note that the majority of the reforms aren’t retroactive in nature, so they won’t change the circumstances of many individuals with existing alimony arrangements.

No More “Permanent” Alimony and More

Perhaps the most important provision of the new law deals with taking the issue of permanent alimony off the proverbial table. Unless exceptional circumstances exist, the spouse paying alimony will now have the ability to request that the payments cease when he or she reaches full retirement age, and judges have greater discretion to make such decisions. Even couples governed by long-standing alimony arrangements currently in place will be able to seek an end to payments upon reaching retirement age.

In addition, prospective alimony awards will now be limited by the duration of the marriage; if a couple divorces after 10 years of marriage, any spousal support award will be – again, absent exceptional circumstances – capped at 10 years, for example.

Other key changes deal with modifying existing awards. Judges will now have the authority to hear motions to modify awards if the paying party has been unemployed for a period of three months (the waiting period was previously set at a year) or if the receiving spouse moves in with a new partner. The prior rules on cohabitation had loopholes, many of which have been clarified with guidelines for when cohabitation and other changes in circumstances warrant a modification.

A Very Important Take-Away

The new rules will give judges more discretion in the making, modifying and ending of alimony awards, which will mean that each party’s legal team has a greater ability to influence the court by presenting persuasive, reasoned arguments. Many people wonder what, if any, impact these new alimony rules will have on them. The key takeaway is this: it is now more important than ever that the parties on both sides of an alimony dispute have the highest-quality representation like that offered by the Law Offices of Irwin D. Tubman, LLC.