Dissecting the NJ Alimony Reform Act of 2014
In September 2014, Governor Chris Christie signed into law the New Jersey Alimony Reform Act. It is an amendment to alimony statute N.J.S. 2A:34-23 and the result of legislative debate that began in early 2012.
Simply defined, alimony is a legal obligation for one party to provide financial support to another during and after a matrimonial action or dissolution of a civil union action. The revised alimony statute was intended to update antiquated alimony laws, provide clearer guidelines for more equitable results and ensure consistent treatment of alimony across the state. The act went into effect on September 10, 2014, and applies to judgments for alimony entered on or after that date. Parties with a final "judgment of divorce" or "settlement agreement" entered prior to the effective date may have the ability to modify alimony obligations under the act only if the judgment or agreement does not have specific provisions on how certain alimony issues are to be resolved. For example, if no details were included regarding how alimony may be impacted by the retirement of the payor, then the provisions under the act may apply. Each case is fact specific, and legal counsel should be sought to address a particular situation. The act primarily addresses the Issues surrounding the length and amount of alimony, as well as changes in circumstances that may warrant a revision to the payor's alimony obligation. Prior to its enactment, a permanent alimony award could potent ally obligate a party to continue to pay alimony past his or her retirement age and/or result in alimony awards lasting longer than the marriage.
The act includes durational limitations and corresponding guidelines to be used in the determination of alimony. In addition, the act provides more specific guidelines to be used in consideration of a modification to alimony obligations in situations such as retirement, unemployment and cohabitation. Finally, the act includes instances whereby
the court is required to make specific written findings of fact and conclusions of law on the reasons why it reached a particular conclusion. The major provisions of the act can be summarized as follows:
- "Permanent alimony" is replaced with "open durational alimony."
- For marriages or civil unions of less than 20 years, the duration of alimony will not exceed the length of the marriage or civil union aside from the possible exceptional circumstances defined in the act.
- Alimony shall terminate upon the payor's retirement age, which is defined as the age a person is eligible to receive full retirement benefits under the Social Security Act.
- Neither party has greater entitlement to the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage or civil union.
- Alimony may be suspended or terminated if the payee cohabits with another. Intertwined finances, sharing or joint responsibility for living expenses; social recognition of the relationship; living together; sharing of household chores; an enforceable promise of support; or any other relevant evidence will be considered by the court. The fact that the parties do not live together full time will not rule out the possibility of a modification of an alimony obligation.
- In the court's determination as to the length and amount of alimony, it will consider all 14 factors outlined in the amended statute, of which no one factor shall be elevated over any other. It is critical that both parties in divorce or dissolution litigation understand the current and future ramifications of their agreement.
The NJ Alimony Reform Act provides guidance for attorneys, judges and litigants in an effort to provide an equitable settlement. Even so, one question still remains: "Is it fair?" It depends on whom you ask. Settlements and court actions are the result of the unique facts and circumstances of each case. This article is not intended to provide legal advice, but rather an introduction and overview of the Alimony Reform Act, which is available at njleg.state.nj.us.