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Possible Alimony Changes on the Horizon in New Jersey

The New Jersey legislature is moving toward an overhaul of state laws governing alimony, the regular payment that is sometimes awarded in a divorce to help pay one ex-spouse’s living expenses. A legislative committee recently voted unanimously to create a commission to study the laws, after previously approving a bill that would allow some modification of alimony and child support awards.

The proposed commission’s job would be to study New Jersey alimony laws, compare the state’s laws to those in other states, analyze the effect of the economy on alimony laws and examine current trends in alimony awards. It would report its findings in nine months, when the legislature could consider changing the laws.

One sponsor of the latest resolution commented that the system for awarding alimony has existed for decades and needs to be re-examined, especially in the light of changing social and financial circumstances. An advocacy group, New Jersey Alimony Reform, maintains that reform is needed in the name of fairness. NJAR claims that existing law is skewed in favor of alimony recipients and can be burdensome and inflexible when the payer’s circumstances change.

New Jersey Alimony Law

Under existing law, judges consider 13 factors when awarding alimony in a divorce. Judges look at such issues as:

  • The need and ability of each person to pay alimony
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The age, physical and emotional health of each person
  • The standard of living established during the marriage and the likelihood that each person can maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living
  • The earning capacities, education and employability of each person
  • The time and expense necessary to acquire education or training to find suitable employment
  • The length of time the person seeking alimony was absent from the job market
  • The parental responsibilities of each person
  • The financial and non-financial contribution of each person to the marriage
  • The marital property division
  • The income and assets of each person
  • The tax implications of an alimony award

Lifetime Alimony Awards Under Debate

New Jersey’s alimony laws, mostly enacted in the 1940s and 1950s, allow a judge to award lifetime alimony if the marriage lasted 10 years or longer. A lifetime alimony award obligates the paying ex-spouse to continue regularly monthly alimony payments even after retiring from work. In a Fox News report, one woman who pays her ex-husband $36,000 annually in alimony remarked that she has even been required to carry life insurance so the payments can continue if she dies first.

From another viewpoint, any change in the law that ends lifetime alimony would take away an important tool judges have to work with, say some who are concerned that reform could go too far. Every case is different and requires individualized treatment, and it is important to give judges discretion to meet the needs of each situation.

An Attorney Can Help

Arriving at a fair decision concerning alimony is just one part of the divorce process. A skilled family law attorney is a necessary resource for anyone going through divorce and can help ensure that one’s interests are effectively represented.

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