Over the past several months, state lawmakers have been discussing options for alimony reform to help divorced and separated couples deal with unexpected losses of income and partnership in the country’s struggling economy. Now, family lawyers in New Jersey report that the final, comprehensive alimony reform package has reached its last stage of approval—Governor Chris Christie’s desk.
The reform package is a combination of three bills, 845, 971, and 1649, and was approved unanimously in the state Assembly and by a 30-2 vote in the Senate. The legislation will have the largest impact on the small number of divorce cases that don’t settle in family court. In these instances, the bill has eliminated permanent alimony, and gives the power of determination to judges and practitioners, who can now set a period of time for alimony to be paid before termination. The bill would not apply to already existing alimony agreements, or to divorcing couples who settle outside of court.
Should one spouse ask for alimony, the judge must issue a written ruling that details his reasons for awarding alimony, and for the amount and timeframe he has decided on. If the marriage or civil union lasted less than 20 years, the alimony award cannot exceed the length of the union, except in certain circumstances to be determined on a case-by-case basis. Alimony awards will be based on factors such as the age of the divorcing couple, both at the time of their marriage and their divorce, the need for separate homes, each partner’s ability to generate income to support a standard of living, the dependency between partners, the individual health status, and others.
The new bill also allows judges to suspend or end a limited alimony award completely, should one partner establish a cohabitation relationship with a third party. At that time, the income from the third party must be evaluated again, and will affect the original alimony. The judge could set up a temporary cessation of alimony for the duration of the cohabitation, but could not restart the alimony after the original termination date.
Although New Jersey Alimony Reform, the state’s leading alimony reform support group, pushed for strict limits on the time frame for alimony payouts, based on the length of the marriage in question, but both sides conceded, and the reform group agreed on the final product. At the bill’s hearing, NJAR President Thomas Leustrek said that the package is “not a perfect bill. We were asking for quite a bit more…However, given the political climate…I think this is the best compromise we can get at this point.” He did note that some people within his own group were opposed to the bill, as they felt it did not cover enough ground.
At New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our family attorneys offer counseling, legal advice, and representation for divorcing couples who need to work out alimony, separation and division of assets, custody, and other legal issues. For a consultation regarding your case, contact an HCK attorney today.