On September 10, 2014, NJ Governor Chris Christie signed Public Law 2014, Chapter 42 into law.  This law makes changes to NJ’s alimony statues.  The legislature had been discussing this issue for several years and finally was able to come to consensus between the factions who wanted a formula (similar to child support) and those who liked the old law, which left a lot more flexible (and thus open to interpretation).  This law applies to both marriages and civil unions, though I will use the term marriage to represent both in this post.

Here are the major changes:

  • The term “permanent” alimony was replaced by “open duration” alimony.
  • Where the law mandates that the parties maintain the standard of living during the marriage, added to it was a clause that states that no one spouse has a greater entitlement to that standard of living.  In most cases, creating two households from one means that neither side can afford to maintain the existing standard of living.
  • A new factor is added that allows the court to look at the nature, amount and length of pendente lite ordered (the alimony ordered during the pendency of the case and before a final judgment of divorce is ordered).
  • The court is supposed to give equal relevance to each of the 14 alimony factors unless the court deems otherwise.  If that happens, the court must put into writing why that is.
  • For any marriage or civil union less than 20 years in duration, the total duration of alimony shall not, except in exceptional circumstances, exceed the length of the marriage.
    • What are these exceptional circumstances?
      • The ages of the parties at the time of the marriage and at the time of the alimony award;
      • The degree and duration of the dependency of one party on the other party during the marriage;
      • Whether a spouse has a chronic illness or unusual health circumstance;
      • Whether a spouse has given up a career or a career opportunity or otherwise supported the career of the other spouse;
      • Whether a spouse has received a disproportionate share of equitable distribution;
      • The impact of the marriage on either party’s ability to become self-supporting, including but not limited to either party’s responsibility as primary caretaker of a child;
      • Tax considerations of either party;
      • Any other factors or circumstances that the court deems equitable, relevant and material.
  • An award of reimbursement alimony may not be modified for any reason.
  • The court shall also consider the practical impact of the parties’ need for separate residences and the attendant increase in living expenses on the ability of both parties to maintain a standard of living reasonably comparable to the standard of living established in the marriage, to which both parties are entitled, with neither party having a greater entitlement thereto.
  • Alimony may be modified or terminated upon the actual or prospective retirement of the obligor.
    • Where the obligor seeks to retire prior to attaining the full retirement age, the obligor shall have the burden of demonstrating by a preponderance of the evidence that the prospective or actual retirement is reasonable and made in good faith.
    • When a retirement application is filed in cases in which there is an existing final alimony order or enforceable written agreement established prior to the effective date of this act, the obligor’s reaching full retirement age as defined in this section shall be deemed a good faith retirement age.
    • Full retirement age is defined as that in the federal Social Security laws.
  • When a non-self-employed party seeks modification of alimony, the court shall consider the following factors:
    • The reasons for any loss of income;
    • Under circumstances where there has been a loss of employment, the obligor’s documented efforts to obtain replacement employment or to pursue an alternative occupation;
    • Under circumstances where there has been a loss of employment, whether the obligor is making a good faith effort to find remunerative employment at any level and in any field;
    • The income of the obligee; the obligee’s circumstances; and the obligee’s reasonable efforts to obtain employment in view of those circumstances and existing opportunities;
    • The impact of the parties’ health on their ability to obtain employment;
    • Any severance compensation or award made in connection with any loss of employment;
    • Any changes in the respective financial circumstances of the parties that have occurred since the date of the order from which modification is sought;
    • The reasons for any change in either party’s financial circumstances since the date of the order from which modification is sought, including, but not limited to, assessment of the extent to which either party’s financial circumstances at the time of the application are attributable to enhanced earnings or financial benefits received from any source since the date of the order;
    • Whether a temporary remedy should be fashioned to provide adjustment of the support award from which modification is sought, and the terms of any such adjustment, pending continuing employment investigations by the unemployed spouse or partner; and
    • Any other factor the court deems relevant to fairly and equitably decide the application.
  • No application shall be filed until a party has been unemployed, or has not been able to return to or attain employment at prior income levels, or both, for a period of 90 days. The court shall have discretion to make any relief granted retroactive to the date of the loss of employment or reduction of income.
  • When a self-employed party seeks modification of alimony because of an involuntary reduction in income since the date of the order from which modification is sought, then that party’s application for relief must include an analysis that sets forth the economic and non-economic benefits the party receives from the business, and which compares these economic and non-economic benefits to those that were in existence at the time of the entry of the order.
  • When assessing a temporary remedy, the court may temporarily suspend support, or reduce support on terms; direct that support be paid in some amount from assets pending further proceedings; direct a periodic review; or enter any other order the court finds appropriate to assure fairness and equity to both parties.
  • Cohabitation can suspend or end alimony.  Cohabitation involves a mutually supportive, intimate personal relationship in which a couple has undertaken duties and privileges that are commonly associated with marriage but does not necessarily maintain a single common household.
    • Cohabitation factors:
      • Intertwined finances such as joint bank accounts and other joint holdings or liabilities;
      • Sharing or joint responsibility for living expenses;
      • Recognition of the relationship in the couple’s social and family circle;
      • Living together, the frequency of contact, the duration of the relationship, and other indicia of a mutually supportive intimate personal relationship;
      • Sharing household chores;
      • Whether the recipient of alimony has received an enforceable promise of support from another person within the meaning of subsection h. of R.S.25:1-5; and
      • All other relevant evidence.
      • The length of the relationship. A court may not find an absence of cohabitation solely on grounds that the couple does not live together on a full-time basis.

The law took effect upon signing.  The changes in essence also do not automatically kickoff changed circumstances for existing agreements or orders.

Despite all the verbiage above, there is not much substantive change in the law.  Most of what is above was already in place through case law.  While the reform law falls short of true guidelines, there is certainly more statutory guidance for those who are divorcing or dissolving a civil union.

Should you have questions about divorcing or alimony, please contact me to discuss mediation.