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New Jersey Law Change Eliminates Permanent Alimony, Makes It Easier to Modify Alimony Orders

October 6, 2014

By Brett J. Zeitlin

On Sept. 10, 2014, the state of New Jersey enacted sweeping and immediate changes to its laws governing alimony. Among its more significant changes, New Jersey’s Alimony Reform Act of 2014 eliminates the longstanding category of “permanent alimony,” and it also provides additional new reasons to modify or terminate existing alimony arrangements. The changes will affect anyone considering a divorce, going through a divorce, or paying alimony as the result of a divorce in New Jersey. 

Perhaps the most significant change is the elimination of “permanent alimony.” Before the new law, New Jersey offered five types of alimony:

  1. Temporary Alimony – support awarded to the lower-earning spouse during divorce proceedings to help cover expenses;
  2. Limited Duration Alimony – support based on financial need to assist the lower-earning spouse in becoming self-sufficient;
  3. Permanent Alimony – permanent support awarded to the lower-earning spouse, generally after a long marriage, if the lower-earning spouse cannot care for himself or herself and cannot be rehabilitated;
  4. Rehabilitative Alimony – support based on financial need to assist the lower-earning spouse in becoming self-sufficient, with self-sufficiency generally being tied to a specific time period or event related to education or job training; and
  5. Reimbursement Alimony – support that reimburses one party for an expense that he or she paid on behalf of the other, such as one party supporting the other during school or attempted employment advancement

Under the Alimony Reform Act, however, “permanent alimony” has been eliminated and replaced with the more-liberal “open durational alimony.” But even that option caps duration based on the number of years parties were married, except in limited “exceptional circumstances” specified in the law. 

In addition to eliminating permanent alimony, the Alimony Reform Act also expands the circumstances in which a party can modify or terminate an existing alimony order, by creating three major avenues to modify alimony: retirement, cohabitation, and loss of employment. Those new avenues are available to parties whose divorces are ongoing and even to parties whose divorces already have finalized (except in certain circumstances). 

On the issue of retirement, the Act specifies that alimony can be modified or terminated when the paying party retires, going so far as to provide a presumption that alimony terminates at the payor’s retirement age.

On cohabitation, the Act specifies that alimony can be modified or terminated when the spouse receiving alimony is cohabitating with another person, and provides guidelines for courts to make cohabitation determinations.

On income, the Act permits modifications or even terminations based on a party’s income loss. Under the new law, a party can request modification if they become unemployed, but only once the unemployment (or the inability to obtain employment at the prior income level) lasts for at least three months. 

While the Alimony Reform Act means major changes for alimony in New Jersey, the law does not affect all divorces and all alimony arrangement. For example, the law is not retroactive, meaning that the Act does not permit a party who is already paying “permanent alimony” (under a Final Judgment of Divorce) to terminate or limit the duration of payments based solely upon the length of the marriage. The Act also does not, itself, modify alimony arrangements that are incorporated into a final judgment of divorce or an enforceable written agreement.

In sum, the Alimony Reform Act of 2014 likely will have a significant impact on alimony disputes in New Jersey. To determine whether you may be affected by the Alimony Reform Act of 2014, or for assistance with any alimony, support or other domestic relations issues, please contact any of the Domestic Relations/Family Law attorneys at Willig, Williams & Davidson at 215-814-9200.

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