Many people are aware that New Jersey’s alimony law has changed, but are not quite sure what it means.
On September 10, 2014, Governor Christie signed a bill into law that amended the alimony statute in New Jersey. The revised statute now in effect addresses several issues including but not limited to: (1) the length, duration and amount of an initial alimony award when a couple initially gets divorced; (2) the modification of alimony based on the paying spouse’s retirement; (3) the modification of alimony when a paying spouse’s income is reduced; (4) the modification of alimony when a self employed paying spouse’s income is reduced; (5) the termination or modification of alimony when a spouse receiving alimony is cohabitating.
One of the most substantive changes to the alimony statute provides that for any marriage less than 20 years in duration, the length of the alimony term cannot exceed the length of the marriage, except in exceptional circumstances. This change, to a certain extent, has taken away the Court’s power to make an initial award of permanent alimony where the parties were married for less than 20 years, except where exceptional circumstances are present. Under the prior alimony statute, a 15 year marriage had been considered a long term marriage and the Court was permitted to make an award of permanent alimony without the presence of exceptional circumstances.
Furthermore, the revised statute also provides that based upon a paying spouse’s retirement at “Full Retirement Age” there is a rebuttable presumption that the paying spouse’s alimony obligation should terminate. Under the revised statute, “Full Retirement Age” is defined as the age when the paying spouse is eligible to receive full retirement benefits pursuant to the Social Security Act. Currently, for paying spouses with a date of birth of 1960 or later, full retirement age is defined as age 67. 42 U.S.C. § 416. Under the prior statute, spouses paying alimony were entitled to seek the modification or termination of alimony at age 65. An additional significant change under the revised alimony statute sets for that when a spouse files a motion to terminate alimony based on retirement, the spouse receiving alimony is now obligated to submit a current case information statement to the Court and the paying spouse, thereby disclosing his or her current income, expenses, assets and liabilities. Prior to the enactment of the revised statute, the spouse receiving alimony was not required to file a current case information statement or disclose any financial information whatsoever until the retiring spouse proved a permanent and significant change in his or her financial circumstances. Now, spouses who seek to terminate or modify their alimony obligations based on actual or even prospective retirement will be able to obtain financial disclosure from the spouse receiving alimony by simply filing a motion with the Court. This could be an advantage where the spouse who seeks to terminate his or her alimony obligation based on prospective retirement may obtain the former spouse’s current financial information. The paying spouse could then seek to terminate or modify his or her alimony obligation based on financial information the other spouse was required to disclose to the court. For example, if the paying spouse’s motion to terminate or modify alimony based on retirement is denied, the paying spouse could file another motion with the court to terminate alimony based on a significant increase in the other spouse’s income or assets, which the paying spouse would not have been privy to under the prior alimony statute.
Also, where a spouse paying alimony seeks to terminate or reduce his or her alimony obligation based on an involuntary reduction of income, the revised statute provides clarity regarding the timeline for filing an application with the Court under such circumstances. Now, the statute provides that no motion shall be filed for the termination or modification of alimony based on the paying spouse’s loss of income until at least 90 days after the loss of income. Under the prior statute, there were no guidelines dictating how long a paying spouse had to wait before filing a motion with the court to terminate or modify his or her alimony obligation based on a reduction in the paying spouse’s income. Under the old statute, spouse’s whose income was involuntarily reduced, would often have to wait several months before filing an application with the court to modify or terminate alimony under such circumstances in fear that the court would likely have denied such an application filed only a few months after the loss of income, finding that the loss of income was only temporary and therefore not a permanent loss of income that would warrant the modification or termination of alimony at that time. Based on the revised statute, it appears that spouse’s who have suffered a significant reduction in income based on an involuntary loss of employment may be able to avoid depleting his or her own assets to satisfy an alimony obligation due to the 3 month time frame provided by the revised statute. However, this does not mean that the Court could or would not, after 90 days, automatically terminate or modify the paying spouse’s alimony obligation.
With respect to cohabitation, the revised statute makes it clear that even if the spouse receiving alimony does not share a common household with the person he or she is alleged to be cohabitating with, the Court cannot base its finding of an absence of cohabitation based solely on the absence of a shared residence. In other words, even if a spouse receiving alimony does not share a common household with the person with whom he or she is in an intimate personal relationship, the Court may still find cohabitation exists nonetheless and may not find the absence of cohabitation based solely on the fact that a common residence is not shared.
Contact the New Jersey Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates Today
If you or someone you know has a question about the revised alimony statute and how it affects his or her existing alimony obligation or how same may affect an initial award of alimony in a prospective or pending divorce proceeding then call a skilled attorneys at Lyons & Associates at 908- 575-9777 or contact us online. The attorneys at Lyons & Associates have substantial expertise in such matters as this office exclusively focuses its practice on family law and family law related issues.
WRITTEN BY: MARK T. GABRIEL, ESQ.