A Review Of The New Alimony Statute
By: Scott J. Levine, Esquire
On September 11, 2014, Governor Christie signed into law the new alimony statue which modified prior law. Here are some of the highlights of the new alimony statue:
Unless exceptional circumstances are present, the length of an alimony award for a marriage less than 20 years is capped at the length of the marriage. For example, for a marriage of 16 years the maximum alimony term would be 16 years absent exceptional circumstances. This is a significant modification from prior law where permanent alimony was indeed possible for that length of marriage.
For W-2 employees the new statute provides an easier path to modify alimony – if there is a reduction in income or elimination of employment for more than 90 days then an applicant may file a motion. Additionally, the length of the reduction or termination is not the only factor. This is a significant change from prior law wherein temporary unemployment or reduction in income was not grounds for a modification of alimony. Additionally, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23m specifically provides for temporary Orders pending a final outcome or pending reinstatement of prior employment and/or income levels.
If a party seeks modification of an alimony award based on retirement there have been major changes:
- If a party is modifying a judgment or order entered after the enactment of this act, then there is a presumption that alimony will be terminated at a party’s full retirement age assuming that they are actually retired. This is a significant change from prior law which indicated that retirement was only a changed circumstance allowing an alimony order to be reviewed;
- The new statute provides a much easier path for modification for early retirement. The applicant must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the early retirement is in good faith and a key factor is the average age for retirement in that person’s respective field. This is a significant change from the prior statute which made it very difficult for a person that was enjoying an early retirement to seek a modification of alimony. The court may also consider a prospective retirement which is contrary to the prior statute.
The new law provides that if cohabitation is present between the payee and their paramour that the court may either terminate or suspend alimony. The prior statute provided that modification was a possibility. Additionally, the prior statute made it mandatory to look at the economic benefit that the payee was receiving prior to any modification of alimony. In the new statute, while the economic benefit is a factor to be looked at in determining whether there is cohabitation, there is no second prong to the alimony calculation.
In other words if the court finds that there is a marriage-like relationship and therefore cohabitation based on several factors outlined in the statute, then alimony must be either terminated or suspended and the actual economic benefit for the payee is not considered. Another critical factor is the length of the relationship both for determining if cohabitation is actually present and also in determining whether the alimony award should be either terminated or suspended.
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