An Overview: Understanding Alimony in New Jersey

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Matt Rooney

Matt Rooney

is a New Jersey attorney, former Superior Court law clerk, and noted commentator who focuses his practice on family law, municipal court defense, and personal injury matters. He was recognized by SJ Magazine as a 2018 “Top Divorce & Family Attorney."

Alimony or “spousal support” is often a central point of contention in New Jersey divorce proceedings, especially in situations where custody and/or child support are not at issue and where there exists significant income disparities between the spouses.

It’s also a very controversial topic; at present, at least one state legislator is seeking an independent review of New Jersey’s alimony laws.

Many litigants initially confuse “equitable distribution” and “alimony.” The difference is simple. Equitable distribution “look back” and allots the parties’ “marital” property. What qualifies as “marital” is a topic for another post! Alimony, however, looks forward. It attempts to make up for the differences in the parties’ economic condition and tried to put them in a position as close as reasonably possible to the marital lifestyle.

For now, alimony is alive and well in New Jersey. Specifically, there are five distinct types of alimony in the Garden State of which all divorcing couples need to be made aware. Each of these five types of alimony is regularly employed by New Jersey family courts with a specific goal and purpose in mind.  Whether any of these forms of alimony apply in your own New Jersey divorce case depends on several highly-factual considerations.

The five types of New Jersey alimony are as follows…

(1) Permanent Alimony – This type of alimony is generally reserved for  marriages of “duration.” When permanent alimony is awarded, it may not terminate until the dependent spouse remarries or either party dies.  , or dies.  However, permanent alimony can be reduced or terminated upon a change of circumstance such as, cohabitation,  retirement or an  involuntary reduction in income..

What a marriage of “duration” looks like is unclear and turns on factual circumstances. For example, a 20+ year marriage of the was held to be long-term in Cox v. Cox, 335 N.J. Super. 465, 485 (App. Div. 2000); there, the parties were married for a considerable period of their lives during which the dependent Wife contributed greatly to the marriage and the maintenance of the marital home.

New Jersey Divorce attoneysEven more interesting is the Hughes v. Hughes, 311 N.J. Super. 15 (App. Div. 1998), where divorcing parties were married for just 10 years, yet the Appellate Court disagreed with the trial-level court that 10 years  automatically constituted a “short-term” marriage for the purposes of ascertaining an appropriate alimony award. The Hughes court ruled that “[b]y today’s standards, it is not.”

(2) Rehabilitative Alimony – Rehabilitative alimony is governed by N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(d) and can be awarded in addition to permanent alimony. It is typically awarded “where a short-term or lump-sum award from one party in a divorce will enable [the] former spouse to complete the preparation necessary for economic self-sufficiency.” Carter v. Carter, 318 N.J.Super. 34 (N.J. Super., 1999).

Economic “rehabilitation” of the dependent spouse (to the extent possible) is the literal goal of this type of alimony award. Courts like dependent spouses to be as independent as they can given their particular circumstances including age, education and occupational ability. Hence, for this type of alimony to be awarded, a rehabilitative “plan” is required on the record; the statute specifically says “Rehabilitative alimony shall be awarded based upon a plan in which the payee shows the scope of rehabilitation, the steps to be taken, and the time frame, including a period of employment during which rehabilitation will occur.” Therefore, rehabilitative alimony amounts vary and are always for a fixed amount of time contingent on the details of each rehabilitation plan.

(3) Reimbursement Alimony – This type of alimony has a very specific purpose; it is usually awarded by the Court to compensate a dependent spouse for economic sacrifices made during the course of the marriage. The sacrifices triggering reimbursement alimony are those that aided the payor spouse in the process of their professional development and increasing their income earning capacity. It’s obvious enough that this type of alimony if most regularly awarded when one spouse helped the other spouse through their higher or graduate education.

(4) Limited Duration Alimony – This type of alimony is exactly what it sounds like: spousal support granted for a fixed amount of time as opposed to a permanent support award. Again, the determination if highly-circumstantial, but a dependent spouse married for an intermediate length of time  may qualify for some kind of limited duration alimony even though he or she fell short of the higher threshold necessary for permanent alimony (see above).

New Jersey Divorce attorneys(5) Pendente Lite Alimony – “Pendente lite” is a Latin phrase which literally means “while the litigation is pending.” Hence, this form of alimony is temporary and  awarded on motion (or agreed upon between the parties) pending an ultimate resolution of the divorce litigation. These awards Will not typically prejudice the ultimate result but, practically speaking, often have the effect of establishing a base-line alimony amount for settlement discussions.

As our society becomes more complex, the process of deciding the form, amount and duration of alimony is becoming increasingly complex, too.

In many cases, experienced attorneys are able to help litigants come to an alimony agreement without the time and expense of a trial; the agreed-upon alimony obligation is, in turn, memorialized as part of a property settlement agreement incorporated into a final judgment of divorce. However, when the parties cannot agree, New Jersey Family Courts will consider all of the admitted evidence and testimony and then weigh the following thirteen (13) equitable factors pursuant to our state’s alimony statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(B):

  1. The actual need and ability of the parties to pay.
  2. The duration of the marriage
  3. The age, physical and emotional health of the parties.
  4. The standard of living established during the marriage and the likelihood that each party can maintain a reasonable comparable standard of living.
  5. The parties’ earning capability, education, and employability.
  6. The length of the absence from the job market.
  7. Parental responsibilities for the children.
  8. The time and expense needed to acquire education or training to enable a dependent spouse to obtain appropriate employment.
  9. The financial and non-financial contributions of each spouse to the marriage.
  10. Equitable distribution.
  11. Income available and non-financial contributions of each spouse to the marriage.
  12. The tax consequences of alimony.
  13. Any other factor which the court deems relevant.

As you can see, alimony can be one of the most challenging areas of matrimonial law. Each of the aforementioned 13 factors alone are the subject of many court opinions, academic treatises and yes, blog posts, as judges and lawyers discuss their various meanings. Those seeking alimony in New Jersey need to not only understand the caselaw and rules affecting their case, but also all of the documentation and other proofs required by the Court to craft an equitable alimony award.

The good news?  You don’t have to figure it out alone. If you have specific questions regarding divorce and alimony in New Jersey, please contact the alimony attorneys at DeMichele & DeMichele online today or call (856) 546-1350 to speak with one of our experienced matrimonial divorce attorneys.

 

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Matt Rooney

Matt Rooney

is a New Jersey attorney, former Superior Court law clerk, and noted commentator who focuses his practice on family law, municipal court defense, and personal injury matters. He was recognized by SJ Magazine as a 2018 “Top Divorce & Family Attorney."
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