On September 10, 2014, Governor Christie signed a bill (A845) that resulted in a major reform of the alimony laws in New Jersey. The biggest change under the new law is the elimination of a presumption that alimony should be permanent. The term “permanent alimony” has been replaced with “open durational alimony.”

Under the prior law, a judge would have to provide a statement of reasons as to why permanent alimony was inappropriate if he or she decided to award another form of alimony. Under the new law, if the length of the marriage is less than 20 years, the duration of the alimony can be no longer than the length of the marriage, unless there are extenuating circumstances. If the marriage lasted twenty years or more, the judge may award “open durational alimony.” However, the new alimony law allows for a “rebuttable presumption” that alimony payments, including open durational alimony payments, will end once the ex-spouse paying alimony reaches the “full retirement age” of 67. This provision applies to existing alimony obligations, as well as obligations established after September 10, 2014. Consequently, alimony recipients need to take measures to make sure that they secure their future in light of the possibility/probability that the paying spouse will move to terminate alimony based upon his or her retirement.

Another major change to the alimony law is in relation to modifications of alimony. Under the old law, the paying ex-spouse could move to reduce his or her alimony payments if he or she became involuntarily unemployed, but usually the judges would find that the paying ex-spouse needed to be out of work for at least one year. Under the new law, the paying ex-spouse can petition the court to lower payments if he or she is involuntarily unemployed for three months. This provides much needed relief to an ex-spouse who has lost his or her job and is saddled with a significant alimony obligation.

The new law also sets out stricter rules in relation to the recipient spouse cohabitating with another. Under the new law, if the alimony recipient lives with a new partner without getting married, a judge could end or suspend the alimony payments. The law 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.”

Most of the law’s changes apply only to couples that get divorced in the future — not to anyone who is currently paying alimony; with the exception of the rebuttable presumption that alimony ends at retirement age and the provision that alimony may be modified if the paying spouse is involuntarily unemployed in excess of three months.

Although the new alimony law provides clarity to certain aspects of an alimony award in New Jersey, as with any new law, it also raises new questions. Only time will tell what this reform means to all involved.

© Shanahan & Voigt, LLC 2014

BE ADVISED that these comments are not legal opinions and are not to be relied upon as legal advice. If you need legal advice, contact your county bar association; most of which have referral services.

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