Over the last few years, alimony reform has been a hotly contested issue in Trenton. At one point at least five different bills were being considered. Well, the wait is nearly over. As of this article, the Alimony Reform Bill awaits our governor’s signature to become amended statute N.J.S.A 2A:34-23.
The first notable change is the replacement of the word “permanent” with the phrase “open durational alimony”. This change is intended to clarify that the alimony will end at some point, clarifying that it will not go on forever as had been the misinterpretation with “permanent”.
The next, notable change is with regard to the standard of living. The bill amends this language to state, “the standard of living established in the marriage or civil union and the likelihood that each party can maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living, with neither party having a greater entitlement to the at standard of living than the other.” This new language looks to further balance fairness.
Next, limits have been placed on the length of alimony that did not previously exist. Specifically, “[f]or 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 or civil union. Determination of the length and amount of alimony shall be made by the court pursuant to consideration of all the statutory factors. . . . In addition to those factors, 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 or civil union, to which both parties are entitled, with neither party having a greater entitlement there to.”
The new language does carve out exceptions citing, “Exceptional circumstances which may require an adjustment to the duration of alimony include the ages of the parties, the degree and duration of the dependency, a chronic illness or unusual health circumstance, if one has given up a career or a career opportunity or otherwise supported the career of the other, if one has received a disproportionate share of the marital estate, the party’s ability to become self-supporting, including responsibility as primary caretaker of a child, tax considerations.”
Lastly, retirement as a factor to modify alimony has been more specifically delineated. Stating, “Alimony may be modified or terminated upon the prospective or actual retirement of the obligor. There shall be a rebuttable presumption that alimony shall terminate upon the obligor spouse or partner attaining full retirement age, except that any arrearages that have accrued prior to the termination date shall not be vacated or annulled. The court may set a different alimony termination date for good cause shown based upon specific written finding of fact and conclusions of law.”
While the above provides a brief overview of the eleven (11) page bill, we will wait to see, if signed, how the potential new terms affect future divorce matters.
Catherine F. Riordan is a Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and a partner at Veres & Riordan located in Denville, N.J. CFR@vrfamilylaw.com