In September 2014, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed the Alimony Reform Act into law, which clarified areas of alimony and extended rights to payers. Although the act mainly applies to future divorces, those who are divorced and have a legitimate reason, such as loss of income, illness, or retirement, may be able to modify their alimony under the new law. Additionally, the term “permanent alimony” has been replaced with “open durational alimony.”
One of the most prominent changes is that for marriages that last less than 20 years, duration of alimony cannot exceed the length of the marriage, unless a judge finds that there are exceptional circumstances. For marriages that last over 20 years, the court has discretion to determine how long alimony payments will last. Duration of alimony restrictions do not apply to those who have been paying alimony prior the enactment of this legislation.
Those who currently pay alimony and have experienced a loss of income, illness, or have retired, may be able to modify or terminate their alimony obligations. Under the the Alimony Reform Act, a judge is required to investigate whether there is a change of circumstances after 90 days of unemployment. The new law also defines what a change in circumstances is by listing factors for a judge to consider. Previous to this law, a judge could have used his or her discretion to determine how much time constitutes a long-term change of circumstances and what constitutes the change. The new law also provides the judge with the option to temporarily modify the alimony payments, should the payer need it. Additionally, judges are required to produce findings of facts and conclusions of the law explaining their decisions in these matters.
A payer may apply for alimony modification or termination once they reach full retirement age under the Social Security Act (67 years old) through a court proceeding. Contrary to the past, even if the payer is healthy and will continue to work beyond 67 years old, the Act requires a judge presume that the individual is retiring in “good faith.” The judge may then advance the proceedings to Plenary Hearing, at which the alimony recipient has the burden of proof to show why alimony should not end due to the payer’s retirement. Under the new law, a payer may apply for alimony modification or termination prospectively, before they reach full retirement age, allowing payers to plan for their retirement.
Prior to the alimony reform, the payer had the burden of proof to show that he or she could not afford to pay alimony because their income declined after retirement and the alimony recipient no longer required those funds. The new law requires a judge to take into consideration whether or not the alimony recipient should have been able to save funds for their own retirement. It also states that neither party has a greater right to be maintained in the marital lifestyle than the other. Prior to the law, the recipient had the right to be maintained in the marital lifestyle.
If you are an individual who is seeking a divorce from your spouse, it is important to seek the guidance of an experienced New Jersey divorce lawyer. The divorce lawyers at Hunziker, Jones & Sweeney, P.A. understand that going through a divorce can be an a difficult and emotional time that can affect all aspects of your life. Our divorce lawyers provide quality legal representation to ensure your divorce has the best possible outcome. For more information about New Jersey alimony or to schedule a consultation, contact our New Jersey divorce law office at (973) 256-0456.