A change to New Jersey’s alimony laws in 2014 allowed ex-spouses paying spousal support to apply for modification or termination of their payment obligations upon reaching retirement age (which is currently 67 but will go up depending upon when one was born). Since Governor Christie signed the Alimony Reform Act of 2014, the New Jersey courts have issued several important decisions providing guidance on how the law’s new provisions regarding spousal support after retirement are to be applied. It should be noted, however, that an application for modification can still be defeated at retirement age, depending on the facts of the situation.
Pre-Alimony Reform Act Obligations May Still Be Enforceable
For example, in the case of Healing v. Healing, decided in March of 2016, the Superior Court ruled that an agreement to pay “permanent, non-modifiable alimony” remained enforceable despite the new statutory “presumption” that spousal support payment obligations end at retirement. The spouses divorced in 2001, and their settlement agreement stated that the husband’s obligation to pay spousal support, “shall be non-modifiable by either party and . . . irrevocable even if any of the following occur . . . [the husband’s] inability to obtain employment, loss of employment at any time, either on a temporary or permanent basis, for whatever reason.”
In affirming the lower court’s decision to enforce the husband’s obligation to continue paying alimony in retirement, the Superior Court referenced the legislative commentary to the Alimony Reform Act of 2014. This commentary states that the act, “shall not be construed either to modify the duration of alimony ordered or agreed upon . . . that [has] been incorporated into . . . any enforceable agreement between the parties.” In other words, while the Alimony Reform Act eliminated the concept of “permanent” alimony for post-enactment divorces, its provisions cannot be used to override a pre-reform agreement to pay permanent alimony.
Seeking Modification Based Upon “Prospective” Retirement
In another 2016 case, Mueller v. Mueller, the Ocean County Superior Court ruled that the alimony payors can apply for modification or termination of support under the Alimony Reform Act prior to their date of retirement. The court’s decision was based upon Section 2A-34-23(j) of the law, which states, “Alimony may be modified or terminated upon the prospective or actual retirement of the obligor.”
However, in recognizing that paying spouses do not need to wait until retirement to petition for modification or termination of alimony, the court noted that there are limits to Section 2A-34-23(j). Mr. Mueller had petitioned to terminate alimony five years in advance of his anticipated retirement. The court ruled that this was too far in advance to reasonably assess the merits of his petition under the statute’s alimony factors.
Modifying or Terminating Alimony at Retirement
For former spouses who are currently paying or receiving alimony, understanding how the Alimony Reform Act affects their rights in retirement (if at all) is of critical importance. For spouses going through divorce in New Jersey, the Alimony Reform Act means that planning for retirement can take on additional importance during the divorce process. As with all other aspects of divorce, taking a thorough, strategic approach to establishing or seeking to modify or terminate alimony is the best way for current and former spouses to protect their financial interests now and in the future.
Contact the New Jersey Divorce Lawyers at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A.
If you would like more information about how New Jersey’s alimony laws apply to your situation, we encourage you to contact us for a free and confidential consultation. To speak with a divorce lawyer at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A., please call 1-877-435-6371 or request an appointment online today.