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New Jersey Legislator Cites Taxpayer Concerns in Latest Push for Divorce Reform

medical-symbolFamily Law reform continues to be a hot topic in the New Jersey Legislature .  We  previously discussed New Jersey’s alimony reform movement and now New Jersey’s Divorce from Bed and Board statute may be eliminated or modified., As always  the attorneys at DeMichele & DeMichele continue to monitor legislation that may alter New Jersey family law..

Assemblyman Ronald S. Dancer of Ocean County is the latest legislator to propose a change to New Jersey’s family law. According to the Assemblyman’s latest press release, he is proposing legislation that would make it illegal “to provide publicly–funded healthcare benefits plans to a public employee’s spouse who is subject of divorce from bed and board.”

Let’s back up for a moment since a little explanation is necessary: what is a “divorce from bed and board” in New Jersey?

The easiest way to explain the difference between this “limited” style of divorce and a regular divorce is that couples who undertake a “divorce from bed and board” pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:34-3 remain legally married and, consequently, may not remarry unless additional steps are undertaken through the Court system to convert the “divorce from bed and board” into a normative final judgment of divorce. 

The next most common question is why anyone would want such a divorce? Historically, when divorce still carried a significant stigma in American society, couples pursued this type of divorce for religious or cultural reasons.

In our modern era, the most common reason for choosing this special type of divorce is to enable the dependent spouse to remain covered under the non-dependent spouse’s health care plan. Hence, divorces from bed and board are most often utilized when one spouse is severely disabled in some manner and requires substantial and ongoing medical attention. Some of these couples consider this option superior to seeking coverage under COBRA (The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) since COBRA is typically limited to only thirty-six (36) months of coverage and is significantly more expensive than simply adding or keeping someone on a preexisting employer plan.

Returning to our original story, Assemblyman Dancer doesn’t believe divorce from bed and board should be an option in the future, particularly for New Jersey’s public employees.

“Taxpayers never pledged ‘Till death due us part.’ If a marriage comes to an unfortunate end, taxpayers should not be obligated to continue to pay for someone who is not a public employee, nor married to one in the way we commonly think of marriage,” Dancer said. “If the federal Internal Revenue Service does not allow couples divorced from bed and board to declare dependency, then neither should New Jersey. While there is a ‘divorce from bed and board,’ that should not mean a ‘honeymoon period’ when taxpayers pay for the benefits.”

Family law is already one of the most challenging areas of the law. A regular divorce can be complicated enough, and divorces from bed and board present unique circumstances for attorneys and their clients to parse. Now, with several matrimonial law measures pending in the legislature  attorneys must keep a close eye on developments in the law and specifically how those changes affect their matrimonial clients.

We’ll keep you in the loop regarding Assemblyman Dancer’s bill.

The good news?  You don’t have to figure it all out alone. If you have specific questions regarding divorce, divorce from bed and board or alimony generally 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.

 

Post Author: 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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