Nothing is as contentious during a divorce as the issue of alimony. While original alimony legislation was enacted to protect women after a divorce, changes in employment and lifestyle have forced that legislation into the spotlight.
Alimony: What’s it for?
The basic idea behind alimony is to ensure that one spouse (typically, but not always, the wife) will not be left in hardship because she cannot afford to live on her own. Back when the original alimony laws were put in place, husbands were the bread-winners and wives either stayed home or didn’t pursue their careers to the same level as their husbands so they could take care of the home front. In the decades since those laws went into effect, the changes in education, employment, and earning power of women have made the original laws seem outdated.
Alimony Reform in N.J.
Coming on the heels of similar alimony reform in states like Massachusetts and Florida, New Jersey’s alimony reform would change the way the courts award monies to divorced individuals. Under current alimony law, when a New Jersey couple divorces, the spouse who earns more pays alimony to the spouse who earns less, and in many cases, that alimony is directed to last indefinitely. Spouses of both genders and lawmakers of both parties are now backing reform that would change alimony laws in the state of New Jersey.
Current N.J. Alimony Laws
In New Jersey, under current law, there are four types of alimony that can be awarded to a spouse: Permanent, Limited Duration, Rehabilitative, and Reimbursement. The biggest change that alimony reform would bring pertains to permanent alimony.
Permanent Alimony is most commonly awarded at the dissolution of a long-term marriage. While NJ does not have any specific formulas, permanent alimony usually applies to marriages that lasted 11 years or longer. This means that the main earner of the marriage would be responsible for paying alimony on a permanent basis, which means until retirement or until the recipient remarries. Again, these are general terms because each case in New Jersey is subject to judicial analysis to determine the individual needs and ability to pay of both parties.
The proposed bill would reform these parameters, making permanent alimony a thing of the past. By introducing a more specific timetable, most alimony agreements would fall under the Limited Duration category. Under the bill, the length of time one spouse would pay alimony would be a percentage of the length that the marriage lasted. For a marriage of less than 5 years, the earner would pay alimony for half of the number of months they were married. For example, if a marriage lasted exactly four years, alimony would be paid for 24 months. The bill proposes payment along these lines for specific marriage lengths:
- If married less than 5 years, alimony is paid for half that length of time.
- If married between 5 and 10 years, alimony will be paid for 60% of the length of the marriage.
- If married between 10 and 15 years, alimony is paid for 70% of the marriage duration.
- If married between 15 and 20 years, alimony will be paid for 80% of the length.
- If married longer than 20 years, alimony will be paid out for a length of time determined by the courts.
One other provision of the alimony reform bill is to state that the amount of alimony will not exceed the recipient’s need or any higher than 30-35% of the difference in the two spouses’ incomes.
The idea behind the reform is to bring fairness to alimony agreements. While a judge will still have discretion and an obligation to take individual factors into account, there would now be a set formula for determining the length of time and amount of alimony to be awarded during a divorce settlement. If adopted, this bill, which has bipartisan support, would take effect October 1, 2013.