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Abolishing Permanent Alimony In New Jersey

New Jersey’s alimony laws are outdated and often very unfair according to Assembly members who have unveiled legislation to eliminate permanent alimony and establish guidelines for the amount and duration of other types of alimony.

Monmouth County Courthouse
Monmouth County Courthouse (Ilya Hemlin, Townsquare Media NJ)

The bi-partisan measure is co-sponsored by Assembly Democrats Charles Mainor, Benjie Wimberly and Angelica Jimenez and Republican Sean Kean.

Under current law, a court may award four types of alimony: permanent, limited duration, rehabilitative and reimbursement. These types of alimony are designed to address different types of considerations that arise during the dissolution of a marriage or civil union. There are no guidelines in the law concerning the duration or amount of an alimony award.

“I have heard countless stories from constituents concerning alimony cases with outcomes that were terribly unbalanced. You have some individuals who are paying alimony to former spouses for longer than they were actually married,” says Mainor. “I understand ’til death do us part’, but it is incredibly unfair for one person to make lifetime contributions to another person when the two are living separate lives and the only thing that binds them, at this point, is their divorce.”

Changes Under The Bill

The bill would eliminate permanent alimony awards and establish guidelines for the term of limited duration alimony based on the length of the marriage. The guidelines are as follows:

  • If the duration of the marriage or civil union is five years or less, the term of alimony would be a maximum of one-half the number of months of the marriage or civil union;
  • If the duration of the marriage or civil union is 10 years or less but greater than five years, the term of alimony would be a maximum of 60 percent of the number of months of the marriage or civil union;
  • If the duration of the marriage or civil union is 15 years or less but greater than 10 years, the term of alimony would be a maximum of 70 percent of the number of months of the marriage or civil union;
  • If the duration of the marriage or civil union is 20 years or less but greater than 15 years, the term of alimony would be a maximum of 80 percent of the number of months of the marriage or civil union; and
  • If the duration of the marriage or civil union is greater than 20 years, the court would have discretion to award alimony for an indefinite length of time.

“The purpose of this bill is to bring fairness into the system and ensure that individuals are not disadvantage financially to the point where they cannot even afford to provide for themselves,” says Wimberly. “Certainly there is a financial responsibility that must be met even after a marriage has ended, but there must be parameters dictating how big it should be and for how long it should be met.”

The bill would also provide that the amount of a limited duration alimony award should generally not exceed the recipient’s need or 30 to 35 percent of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes. A court would be permitted to deviate from this guideline upon a written finding that deviation is necessary. Additionally, the court would be permitted to attribute income to either party when it finds that said party is voluntarily underemployed or unemployed.

“I understand why permanent spousal support would be necessary when employment opportunities for women were limited and husbands were the main breadwinners,” explains Jimenez. “That is not the case today. The system must catch up. This bill helps make the system more equitable so the payer is not unfairly burdened financially for the rest of their lives.”

The bill is modeled after the Massachusetts “Alimony Reform Law of 2011,” and would take effect on October 1, 2013. It has been introduced to the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

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