NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED FEDERAL LAWYERS
There is a movement in New Jersey to reform the alimony laws to conform to those recently revised in states such as Florida and Massachusetts. As a result of this movement, Alimony Reform Assembly Bill A3909 was introduced to the Legislature on March 7, 2013. If passed into law, this bill would eliminate permanent alimony and establish more stringent guidelines concerning the amount and duration of other forms of alimony.
As the current law stands, a court may award four types of alimony: permanent, limited duration, rehabilitative, and reimbursement. These four types of alimony are designed to address different fact patterns that arise during the dissolution of a marriage or a civil union.
Limited Duration Alimony
Under the proposed bill, permanent alimony would be eliminated and guidelines would be established for the terms of limited duration alimony based upon the length of the marriage:
If the marriage or civil union is 5 years or less, the alimony term would be a maximum of one-half the length of the marriage or civil union; for example, if the parties were married or in a civil union for two years, alimony would be paid for one year;
- If the marriage or civil union is 10 years or less, but greater than 5 years, the alimony term would be a maximum of 60 percent of the number of months of the marriage or civil union;
- If the marriage or civil union is 15 years or less, but greater than 10 years, the alimony term would be a maximum of 70 percent of the number of months of the marriage or civil union;
- If the marriage or civil union is 20 years or less, but greater than 15 years, the alimony term would be a maximum of 80 percent of the number of months of the marriage or civil union;
- If the marriage or civil union is greater than 20 years, then the court would have discretion to award alimony for an indefinite length of time.
The bill also provides that the amount of limited duration alimony awarded should generally not exceed the payee’s needs or 30 to 35 percent of the difference between the payor’s and the payee’s respective gross incomes. The court may deviate from the durational limits, but in deviating from those limits, the court must make specific written findings on the evidence, setting out the reasons for the deviation.
Effect of Cohabitation
The bill would additionally permit suspension, modification, or termination of a limited duration alimony award in the event that the payee is in a cohabitation relationship with another person for a continuous period of at least three months. However, the original award could be reinstated upon termination of the cohabitation relationship, but the reinstatement period would not extend beyond the termination date of the original order. The bill sets forth numerous factors to be considered by the court when addressing the issue of cohabitation in relation to the termination of limited duration alimony.
With regard to rehabilitative alimony, the bill provides that this type of alimony would not exceed a term of five years. However, the Court would have discretion to extend the term of rehabilitative alimony upon a finding that: 1) unforeseen events prevent the payee from being self-supporting at the end of the term; 2) the payee endeavored to become self-supporting; and 3) extending rehabilitative alimony would not constitute an undue burden on the payor.
The bill provides that reimbursement alimony may not be modified.
Retroactive Modification of Alimony
Knowing that this bill is in existence and has been introduced to the Legislature, many matrimonial attorneys are encountering perspective payor spouses/partners who are hesitant to settle on a type and/or amount of alimony at this juncture, fearful that they will be saddled with an alimony payment that will eventually be eliminated, or at least modified, should the pending bill be passed into law.
Perhaps anticipating such a reaction from parties to pending litigation, the drafters of the bill included language that permits the modification of alimony awards existing on the effective date of the bill to conform to the provisions of the bill. This would mean that if the bill were enacted, limited duration and rehabilitative alimony awards already in effect could be modified to conform to the durational guidelines provided in the bill, and permanent alimony awards could be converted to limited duration alimony awards and modified to conform to the durational guidelines for limited duration alimony. The bill does require that all petitions for modifications in connection with its enactment be brought within two years of the effective date.
The bill is presently scheduled to be discussed by the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Monday, November 25, 2013. The ultimate fate of this bill is unknown, but matrimonial attorneys and litigants alike are watching and waiting. In the interim, those anticipating alimony as being an issue in their dissolution action should seek the advice of counsel so that he or she is properly advised before proceeding.
BE ADVISED that these comments are not legal opinions and are not to be relied upon as legal advice. If you need legal advice, contact your county bar association; most of which have referral services.