On June 30, 2014, both Houses of the New Jersey Senate passed bill number A845/971/1649, which significantly changes the law on alimony in New Jersey. The bill has now been sent on to Governor Chris Christie for his approval and signature.
Why Has the New Jersey Alimony Law Taken So Long to Pass?
One of the hold-ups during the negotiations related to the reform bill was the fact that certain versions of the proposed bill contained provisions that were retroactive. With the family courts backlogged already with pending divorce litigation, no doubt the idea of the new alimony law containing provisions to allow courts to modify the alimony awards made in previously entered final judgments of divorce was one of the contributing factors as to why negotiations lasted over two years.
Why Current Alimony Payers are not Happy with This New Bill
Needless to say, many current alimony payers are not happy with the new bill because it primarily benefits future alimony payers. Their dissatisfaction is understandable, in that the effort towards alimony reform was started by and championed by current alimony payers and their supporters.
Changes Made to the Alimony Law
The following are among the major changes made to the alimony law by this bill:
- For future divorces, for marriages that lasted fewer than twenty (20) years, the length of the alimony payments cannot exceed the length of the marriage unless the judge decides there are “exceptional circumstances.”
- Under the current law, alimony generally ends when the person who receives alimony remarries. Under the new bill, if the alimony recipient lives with a new partner without getting married, a judge could end or suspend the alimony payments. The bill defines cohabitation as involving a “mutually supportive, intimate person relationship in which a couple has undertaken duties and privileges that are commonly associated with marriage or civil union.”
- Judges would be able to modify alimony payments if the payer has been out of work for ninety (90) days.
- The term “permanent alimony” would be eliminated.
What the New Alimony Law Means
The proposed revision to N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23 as it relates to marriages/civil unions lasting greater than twenty (20) years reads as follows, “If the duration of the marriage or civil union is greater than 20 years, the court shall have discretion to award alimony for an indefinite length of time.” Some opponents of the bill feel that it puts too much discretion in the hands of the judges; they wanted set formulas for alimony payment amounts. However, in that many divorce cases are fact-sensitive, the majority felt that it would not be suitable to impose a set “formula” for alimony in all cases.
It has been a long, hard-fought battle to the passing of the current bill. Should Governor Christie sign the bill into law, only time will tell if it will serve as a major improvement of the alimony laws in the State of New Jersey.
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