New Jersey’s alimony statute contains significant recent reforms

Spousal support law has recently been overhauled in the Garden State.

New Jersey is one of a handful of states that has recently enacted some major changes to its alimony law in the context of a public, vigorous debate over whether traditional alimony is still fair. Three of the key amendments that took effect on September 10, 2014, concern:

  • The impact of retirement on an ongoing alimony obligation
  • The duration of an award in a marriage of fewer than 20 years
  • An expanded definition of cohabitation and the potential impact of a recipient cohabitating with a new partner

Retirement provisions

After horror stories in the national press about elderly alimony payors having to pay lifetime alimony even after retirement and into advanced age, during illness or while receiving long-term care services, New Jersey's legislature responded by creating a rebuttable presumption that alimony payments should end at the payor's Social Security full retirement age, usually 67.

The payor may ask the court to end his or her obligation at actual or prospective retirement. The court is to look at all relevant factors, including those in a preset list, to decide if good cause exists to continue payments. If the judge decides that the presumption has been overcome, he or she must consider all relevant factors and those in a long list to determine whether to modify or terminate the arrangement.

If the payor petitions the court for modification or termination before having reached retirement age, he or she must show that retirement is reasonable and being done in good faith.

Duration of award in marriage under 20 years

The amendment added a provision that for a marriage of fewer than 20 years, the spousal maintenance is not to exceed the length of the marriage, except in exceptional circumstances. The judge is to consider all factors that are "equitable, relevant and material," as well as specific factors in a list, in assessing whether exceptional circumstances exist to support a longer duration.

Cohabitation

While previously the payor could request a modification based on the recipient's cohabitation with a romantic partner as a material change in circumstances, the reform establishes a broad definition of cohabitation and allows the court to suspend or end alimony if cohabitation is proven.

Significantly, cohabitation does not require that the couple live together all the time or even share a common home, but rather that the relationship be mutually supportive and intimate. Again, the law lists several factors for the judge to consider like joint accounts, assets or debts; shared living expenses and chores; recognition of the relationship by close family and friends; and other factors, along with anything else relevant.

Seek legal counsel

This article highlights a few of the more significant reforms, but New Jersey alimony law is much broader than the scope of this piece. Anyone facing divorce and its many legal issues, including spousal support, should speak with an experienced lawyer for advice and advocacy.

From their office in Newton, the attorneys at Morris, Downing & Sherred, LLP, represent family law clients in divorce throughout North Jersey.