Compromise Legislation Signed into Law, Placing Limits on Judicial Discretion in Awarding Spousal Support
Governor Chris Christie signed A845 on Wednesday and, in so doing, dramatically changed aspects of how alimony (also referred to as “spousal support”) are determined in the State of New Jersey.
I say “determined” instead of calculated for a reason; unlike most (but not all) child support cases where the payor’s obligation is determined pursuant to the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines, putting together an alimony award is always an equitable and largely subjective analysis guided by the enumerated factors contained in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-24(a).
Here are a few of the big changes:
• For marriages that lasted fewer than 20 years, the length of alimony payments cannot exceed the length of the marriage unless a judge decides there are “exceptional circumstances”
• Judges would be able to end payments if the recipient lives with a partner, even if they don’t get married.
• Judges would be able to lower payments if the payer has been out of work for 90 days.
• The term “permanent alimony” would be replaced with “open durational alimony.”
Individuals on all sides of the contentious alimony reform debate will naturally find cause for both excitement and disappointment. Legislation is often the product of compromise and this latest law is no different.
The biggest change? Judges still have tremendous discretion in crafting alimony awards – and deciding when they end – but now there are a few significant statutory curbs. For example, as mentioned above, alimony for marriages under 20 years is now capped. In reality, it was already rare in 2014 for short duration marriages (those where the parties are married for several years) to receive substantial alimony awards. Even before yesterday’s bill signing, a supported spouse married for 10 years was unlikely to receive anything close to 10 years of alimony payments, let alone more. But now it’s on the books.
Please visit our extensive alimony blog archives to learn more about this issue. We’ll keep you in the loop when judges begin deciding divorce cases – and publishing authoritative decisions – interpreting these changes. That’s when the rubber really hits the road, so to speak.
In the interim, if you, a friend or a loved one have questions regarding alimony, either heading into the divorce process or in the post-judgment context (e.g. the enforcement of alimony orders, or the modification or termination of alimony orders), please contact us or call us at (856)546-1350 to schedule a confidential consultation with our experienced New Jersey alimony attorneys.