At the Law Offices of Edward R. Weinstein, we have been tracking the "red hot" issue of New Jersey Alimony Reform since it's modest beginnings to the headline grabbing movement it has become. Please enjoy this piece which contains a nice summary.
Traditional alimony awards
For years, judges in New Jersey have awarded alimony to parties in a divorce to reimburse for economic and non-economic contributions to the marriage. Alimony was also often awarded to compensate for domestic services and to reflect the true idea of marriage as a partnership. Even today, some still believe that alimony payments are beneficial to help the dependent spouse maintain the same standard of living he or she is accustomed to from the marriage and also to compensate for the economic harm caused to the dependent spouse by the marriage as a result of choices made during the marriage, like having children. Yet, others believe that permanent alimony is oppressive and should outright be abolished in New Jersey. In a recent blog I discuss permanent alimony.
What is New Jersey Alimony Reform?
New Jersey Alimony Reform is actually a group of New Jersey residents, both men and women, whose goal is to change the state’s antiquated and unfair alimony laws so that they are more reflective of current trends and household lifestyles. This group, called NJAR for short, believes that New Jersey’s alimony laws are brutal and repressive and that no resident of the state should be forced to pay a lifetime amount of alimony after only being married for a short period of time.
What recent polls reveal
A variety of sources recently polled samples of New Jersey residents and found the following:
Do Americans want to end permanent alimony? Yes: 88.5%, No: 11.5%
Should NJ change their alimony laws? Yes: 95.18%, No: 4.82%
Should permanent alimony be eliminated for New Jersey? Yes: 91.07%, No: 8.9%
Is alimony for life fair? No: 93.1%, Yes: 6.9%
What is the purpose of passing the alimony reform bill?
The alimony reform bill would get rid of permanent alimony awards and create new guidelines for the term of limited duration alimony based on the length of the marriage. Guidelines of the bill are as follows:
1. If the duration of the marriage is five years or less, the term of alimony would be a maximum of one-half the number of months of the marriage
2. If the duration of the marriage is 10 years or less but greater than five years, the term of alimony would be a maximum of 60 percent of the number of months of the marriage
3. If the duration of the marriage is 15 years or less but greater than 10 years, the term of alimony would be a maximum of 70 percent of the number of months of the marriage
4. If the duration of the marriage is 20 years or less but greater than 15 years, the term of alimony would be a maximum of 80 percent of the number of months of the marriage
5. If the duration of the marriage is greater than 20 years, the court would have discretion to award alimony for an indefinite length of time
Who will alimony reform apply to?
If or when the act goes into effect, it will only apply to judgments for alimony entered on or after the effective date. Most people in New Jersey agree with this because they feel that it would be extremely harmful to have the opportunity to go back on a judgment and change an existing divorce agreement. Several people rely on alimony as income to help themselves get by and to retroactively change a set agreement would pose a great danger to such people.
What are the organization’s goals and objectives?
The main goals of NJAR are to change the alimony laws in New Jersey and to bring awareness to their cause. The following is a more detailed list of NJAR’s goals, which also can be found on the groups website at http://njalimonyreform.org:
1. To support self-sufficiency and independence for the lower-earning spouse through alimony payments, which continue over a transition period that is proportional to the length of the marriage. The objective of alimony should be to allow each party of the divorce to move-on with independent and productive lives
2. Alimony must be proportional to the length of the marriage. Why should someone be forced to pay lifetime alimony after only being married for a short period of time, like 10 years?
3. Limit the amount of alimony awards. NJAR believes there should be a reasonable limit, reasonable to both parties. Additionally, the organization believes there should be a reasonable limit to the amount of alimony awards, reasonable to both parties. Currently, alimony awarded by judges is haphazard and inconsistent across NJ. As a result, mediation on alimony between divorcing spouses is much more akin to legalized coercion than it is good faith negotiation. The outcome is increased litigation at the dire expense to both spouses; and a tremendous waste of the court system and judges.
4. Abolish “Double Dipping”—marital assets must be counted once and only once. If a retirement asset is equally split in a divorce, that asset must not be used additionally to pay alimony in retirement, or after job loss, or reduction in income. If alimony is paid the recipient must be viewed as having received their fair share of family income. What remains for the payer, the savings and capital gains derived from their income, must not be used to calculate the ability to pay alimony in retirement, or as a result of job loss, or income reduction.
5. Grant the right to retire for alimony payers—no less than the same rights enjoyed by all other citizens.
6. Provide equal and consistent treatment, where the outcome of an alimony case is not decided by the haphazard selection of the family court judge.
7. Reduce expensive legal battles that cost all NJ taxpayers.
8. Maintain appropriate judicial discretion to fairly judge unique circumstances where the lower-earning spouse is physically or mentally unable to work to gain self-sufficiency, permitting alimony payments only until no longer needed.