Edward R. Weinstein, Esq.Edward R. Weinstein, Esq.

If I Suffer From a Disease, Could That Effect My New Jersey Alimony?

While permanent alimony could be seeing it’s last days, it is presently by far one of the most controversial topics in New Jersey.  However, as what is called by many as New Jersey Alimony Reform, the bill that would end permanent alimony in New Jersey is still sitting on the Governor’s desk.  Therefore, the present state of New Jersey divorce law and alimony still allows for New Jersey Family Court’s to award permanent alimony.  Following is an analysis New Jersey alimony case involving a spouse with a serious illness.  Let’s explore.

As a New Jersey Divorce Attorney I am well aware that one of the only situations in which the courts typically do award permanent alimony, however, is if the person receiving the alimony, the “payee”, is seriously ill. The most recent case in which the court addressed this issue was in the unpublished Appellate Division case of Waldorf v. Waldorf.

The Waldorfs were married in 1995 and bore one child of the marriage. Mr. Waldorf was a successful engineer, whose income was consistently six figures. Mrs. Waldorf was highly educated as well, having graduated from a prestigious law school; however, she never practiced law. As a result, he salary was approximately half of her husband’s. Four years prior to the marriage, Mrs. Waldorf was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic and serious autoimmune disease. She shared this diagnosis with Mr. Waldorf and he still wanted to marry her. Some of Mrs. Waldorf’s symptoms from the disease included joint complications, skin rashes, several headaches a day, and extreme fatigue. In addition to lupus, Mrs. Waldorf was diagnosed with two other autoimmune diseases, Sjogren and Raynaud’s.

By 2003, Mrs. Waldorf could not work anymore. She sought disability benefits from the government and was granted them because she had been officially deemed totally and completely disabled. She received $2044 a month in social security disability benefits, and also $1100 in derivative benefits for her son. Furthermore, Mrs. Waldorf’s Medicare plan did cover a vast majority of her medical costs, 80%; however, her prescription drugs were not covered. Finally, in 2007, Mrs. Waldorf filed for a divorce.

Mr. Waldorf was ordered to pay $5700 per month to his ex-wife. Additionally, he was to continue paying health insurance and life insurance for his ex and their son. Two years after the divorce was filed, Mr. Waldorf was fired from his job. He left New Jersey and spent time in Guatemala where he did not work. He did return to New Jersey, though, shortly after. Upon his return, Mr. Waldorf worked at a few different consulting firms. Since his job was not as steady as it had previously been, he was frequently behind on his support payments. He incessantly was asking the court to reduce his obligations, yet they declined on numerous occasions.

When the case was brought before the trial court, the court found for Mrs. Waldorf. It stated that Mr. Waldorf was motivated to hurt Mrs. Waldorf financially and non-financially. Therefore, the trial court granted Mrs. Waldorf among other things, $2000 per week in permanent alimony through wage garnishment so that she could cover the costs of medical treatment for her autoimmune diseases. Of course, Mr. Waldorf appealed, arguing that the length of their marriage did not entitle Mrs. Waldorf to permanent alimony in the first place.

On appeal, the court looked to the case of Gnall v. Gnall, 432 N.J. Super. 129 (App. Div. 2013) for precedent on the correlation between the length of a marriage and permanent alimony. In Gnall, the court held that “although courts must consider the duration of the marriage when fixing alimony, the length of the marriage and the proper amount or duration of alimony do not correlate in any mathematical formula.” After looking to Gnall, the Waldorf appellate court affirmed the award of permanent alimony; however, the amount paid to Mrs. Waldorf per week was reduced. The court reasoned that due to Mrs. Waldorf’s terminal illness, permanent alimony was appropriate to cover high medical bills, among other things.    

If you have concerns regarding New Jersey alimony, please never hesitate to contact my office and we shall be sure to answer all of your questions.