New Jersey lawmakers agree that the state’s alimony laws need an overhaul, however, they will need to reach a compromise in order to come up with a solution. Compromise is often hard to come up with when dealing with divorce.
Under the current law, alimony terminates when either party dies or there is the remarriage of the recipient spouse. It is often difficult to adjust the payments when the parties’ financial situations change after the divorce. Often, spouses who pay alimony can find themselves paying well into retirement.
Despite the general agreement that New Jersey’s out of date alimony laws are severely flawed, the path to changing them is not very clear.
Assembly Bill A845/S488, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Charles Mainor, has the support of the N.J. Alimony Reform Group, which has criticized the unfairness created by New Jersey’s existing alimony laws for a long time.
The bill establishes specific criteria for modifying or terminating alimony payments under several circumstances, including when the paying spouse retires, loses his job, has any other reduction in income or when the recipient spouse cohabits with another person. The proposed legislation also eliminates the phrase “permanent alimony” in the statutes and replaces it with “alimony of indefinite term” to reflect the fact that alimony orders can be modified by the court when situations require.
Meanwhile, the New Jersey Bar Association calls for more subtle changes. It supports Assembly Bill A1649/S1808, which is sponsored by Democratic Assembly members Thomas Giblin and Pamela Lampitt. The bill calls for substantial changes to the current system and closely resembles the Massachusetts “Alimony Reform Law of 2011.”
Mainor and the NJBA propose changes that would eliminate permanent alimony and establish guidelines for determining the amount and duration of other types of alimony. For example, the term of limited duration alimony would be largely based on the length of the marriage. For a marriage of five years or less, alimony would be equal to 50 percent of the number of months a marriage lasted; for a marriage of five to 10 years, alimony would be 60 percent of the total months; for 10 to 15 years, 70 percent; for 15 to 20 years, 80 percent.
The bill would also provide that the amount of a limited duration alimony award should generally not exceed the recipient’s need or 30 to 35 percent of the difference between the divorcing spouses’ gross income. However, a court would have leeway to deviate from the guidelines, if it submits a written finding that justifies such a move.
Critics of the Mainor bill argue that it is too rigid and fails to take into account the individual circumstances of the parties. However, detractors of the Giblin/Lampitt bill argue that it does not reflect the time and money needed to seek a modification from the court.
To come up with a compromise, both sides will have to do what many divorcing couples can’t, take the emotions and ego out of the equation, focus on the facts, and work toward an agreement that protects the best interests of everyone involved. In this case, everyone’s main concern should be the thousands of couples going through a divorce who rely on the New Jersey court system to help them through the confusing and difficult process.