Parties in New Jersey who are about to pay alimony, or already pay alimony, should understand some recent changes to the statute that may impact their obligations. Some of the most critical changes are detailed below.
First, it appears that there is a movement away from “permanent alimony.” In fact, the word “permanent” was removed from the statute in its entirety and replaced with the phrase, “open durational alimony.” More importantly, the revised statute provides that for marriages less than 20 years in duration, the alimony term cannot exceed the length of the marriage. While this is subject to deviation under certain circumstances, it is a far cry from the situation in the not so distant past where there could be a permanent alimony award for a marriage lasting as little as ten years.
Another important change is that there is now a rebuttable presumption that alimony terminates upon “full retirement.” The definition of full retirement under the statute is the age at which is a person is entitled to receive full retirement benefits under the Social Security Act. If an obligor wants to retire, and thus modify or terminate his/her alimony obligations prior to full retirement age, he/she has the burden to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the early retirement is reasonable and in good faith.
Further, a Court will now look at ten factors in determining whether a non-self-employed party who loses his/her job should be entitled to a reduction/termination of an alimony obligation. A Court will not even consider an application to modify until a party has been unemployed or not able to return to employment at prior income levels for at least 90 days. If an obligor is self-employed, the application for a reduction/termination of alimony for loss of income must analyze the economic and non-economic benefits he/she receives from the business now compared to those benefits which existed at the time the alimony obligation went into effect.
The statute also sets forth some guidelines on what constitutes cohabitation. This was a gray area, previously. It also provides that alimony can be suspended or terminated if a party is cohabiting.
The foregoing highlights only some of the important changes in the Statute. There are others certainly worth reviewing as they will all impact a divorcing party’s future financial obligations.