The state’s alimony laws are getting a much-needed update, New Jersey family lawyers report, and it is just in time for many modern families, who are having a hard time keeping up with the antiquated requirements of the old laws, especially with today’s financial struggles. Last month, Governor Chris Christie signed the first bill for alimony reform that the state has seen in years. Below are a few things couples who are in the process of divorcing, and who have already set up alimony agreements, should know.
The reform bill will eliminate “permanent” alimony agreements, which go back to times when women were traditionally dependent on their husbands for financial support as the family’s breadwinners. Today, it is much more likely that both spouses earn a living, and permanent alimony does not reflect the changing times. Ex-spouses who pay alimony will now be able to apply for termination or modification to an existing plan once they reach the retirement age of 67. Alimony recipients will now have to make better plans for their retirements and future financial status, without relying on the lifetime support.
Additionally, for marriages that last fewer than 20 years, the length of the payment plan cannot be longer than the marriage itself, so that if a couple is married for ten years, the alimony agreement cannot extend beyond ten years’ worth of payments. The new bill does allow for “exceptional circumstances” where a long-term arrangement can be set up, but only if a judge deems it necessary. Included in the bill are stricter stipulations about when alimony payments stop, should the receiving spouse begin living with a new partner.
The bill also deals with the growing problem of unemployment, and offers a support line for ex-spouses who have lost their jobs, and can no longer afford to make payments. Although the old alimony laws had an unwritten allowance for people who had been unemployed for over a year, the reform bill cuts this timeframe shorter. If you have been out of work for three months, you can apply for lower payments in court.
Unfortunately, the laws will not change things for most couples who already have established alimony terms. According to the State Bar Association, the new bill “does not change contractual obligations.” Only couples who divorce in the future, or are in the process of determining alimony agreements, will benefit under the new laws. However, family lawyers in New Jersey say that the retirement age stipulation will be applicable to all ex-spouses paying alimony. Once they retire, they are eligible to apply for an end to the agreement.
The bill has support from New Jersey Alimony Reform, a group that has been fighting for change for years, but several supporters have said that this reform is only a first step in what should be many more to come. Advocates for alimony reform hope for stricter payment duration limits in the future, while New Jersey family lawyers say that the bill’s new regulations may lead to lawsuits between couples who have already been divorced, as new questions are raised about alimony regulations.
At the New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our family lawyers help couples who are in the process of divorcing to work through alimony agreements and custody arrangements. For a consultation regarding your situation, contact an HCK attorney today.