In September of 2015, New Jersey Governor Christie signed the Alimony Reform Act into law, updating the state’s alimony laws. The new law codified much of the case law that had developed since it was first drafted in the early 1970s. The new law contains several important changes, as follows.
1. Alimony won’t last forever
Governor Christie sought to limit the duration of alimony, and he did so in two key ways:
- For marriages that lasted fewer than 20 years, the length of alimony payouts cannot exceed the length of the marriage unless there are exceptional circumstances. For example, nine years of marriage means no more than nine years of alimony and most probably less.
- For marriages lasting longer than 20 years, the dependent spouse is entitled to open durational alimony, which ends upon the death of either party or the remarriage of the dependent spouse. The law made it easier for payor spouses who retire at a reasonable retirement age or at the social security retirement age (currently 67) to terminate their spousal support.
2. The new changes do not ‘undo’ past alimony agreements
While the new laws are a great stride towards updating outdated laws, the new laws cannot cancel or negate any current alimony agreements. That means if you are currently paying $2,000. per month in alimony, you are still obligated to make those payments. However, at the age of the retirement, you may apply to end payments if your obligation was defined as permanent alimony under the old law.
3. New laws have stricter policies regarding benefits for the receiving spouse
Before the new law was signed, the payor spouse could move to terminate alimony if the payee cohabited with another individual even if they were not married. This often meant that the former spouse would maintain a separate residence from his or her paramour to ‘prove’ they did not live with the other person. The law establishes factors to prove cohabitation. Interestingly, the parties do not have to be living together to prove cohabitation. This precludes the payee spouse from simply kicking the parmour out of the house upon the filing of a motion to win the case.
4. Reducing your payments due to job loss is now easier
Under the old alimony laws, the paying individual could petition for lowered payments due to job loss only if his unemployment was not a temporary changed circumstance. Now, the new law allows a petition to be filed after only three months without a job.
As you can see, the new statute still requires litigants to address multiple factors to prevail. If you are paying or receiving alimony in New Jersey and have questions about how the new law may affect you, or if you wish to apply for modifications to your existing agreement, it is important to consult with an experienced family law attorney to discuss your options, organize your presentation and plan your strategy.