THE STATE OF LIFETIME ALIMONY IN NEW JERSEY IS QUESTIONED
Going through divorce is the closing of one chapter in life and the opening of another. But, some family law advocates say the alimony law in New Jersey frustrates the ability of divorced individuals to build a new life.
Reform advocates say the alimony law in New Jersey needs to be updated because the law is too unwieldy when circumstances in the lives of the paying ex-spouse change, especially regarding permanent alimony. Those who would like to see an update to the law want judges to have less discretion in determining the length of alimony payments.
In New Jersey, permanent alimony, or lifetime alimony as referred to by some, can be awarded in cases of lengthy marriages and when one partner sacrificed his or her earning potential for the betterment of the other partner. While permanent alimony can last for a lifetime, the terms of permanent alimony can be changed or terminated if a judge determines there has been a substantial change in circumstances. Critics of the current law take issue that a change in permanent alimony requires court approval and does not occur automatically upon the loss of a job, retirement or a serious change in health.
According to those who want an update to the law, the current case-by-case review of alimony decisions leaves too much discretion in the hands of judges. Advocates for a change point to recent alimony reform in Massachusetts. They say Massachusetts’ alimony law is now fairer because it links alimony payments with the length of marriage and because alimony ceases when the payer retires or the person receiving payment starts living with another partner.
Those who are in favor of reform say it is also difficult to acquire a change in alimony payment because the review process is expensive and some judges will not review alimony arrangements on principle. They argue life changes should automatically necessitate changes in alimony, and a more automatic approach would also provide greater predictability.
Skeptics of the change say divorce and alimony cases are fact-intensive and eliminating judicial discretion by enforcing one set of rules would be unfair on an individual basis. They maintain length of marriage should not be the determinative factor but should be one factor among many, like age and health.
Alimony is meant to provide compensation in cases where opportunity was given up to further the marriage. Those who gave up earning potential are entitled to explore options for alimony and those whose circumstances have changed while paying alimony are entitled to a review.
If you have questions about alimony, contact an experienced New Jersey family law attorney.