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

Under N.J. Law, Is The Alimony Factor Of The “Standard Of Living” Applicable To Both Parties?

Yes.  Pursuant to New Jersey’s updated alimony laws, lawyers were advised that the standard of living of both parties is applicable to both spouses.  Following please find this New Jersey alimony attorney’s of a recent divorce case that explains how this may affect your case.  

In Malek v. Malek, the Honorable Judge Jones of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Part of Ocean County addressed an issue concerning pendente lite alimony as it related to the new statutory amendments to the alimony statute, New Jersey Statute 2A:34-23(b). Judge Jones held that replication of the marital lifestyle is not the only or even main factor for consideration in a pendente lite alimony determination. Both the spirit and terms of the amended alimony statute enumerate the analysis of pendente lite alimony motions under the applicable statutory factors, involve far more than simply considering each party’s former “standard of living” and marital lifestyle. He further held that in several divorces it is likely that after the separation, neither spouse will be able to financially maintain the previous “marital lifestyle” on a pendente lite, or temporary basis. Far more often both spouses will have to adjust their budgets and expectations, because the court has the power to enter a fair and equitable pendent lite support award in which neither spouse maintains the standard of living enjoyed while married.

Richard and April Malek got married in 2012. They had two children together who were four and three at the time of the present issue. Richard was employed as a teacher and earned about $ 90,000 a year, while April was employed as a hairdresser and earned $ 20,000 a year. Both Richard and April filed for divorce in 2016. Since that time they were sharing joint legal custody of their kids. Presently, April filed a motion for pendente lite alimony and child support. Richard objected.

April asserted that she needed alimony to maintain the marital standard of living and lifestyle, which she was not able to maintain at the same level as Richard because he was not paying her support. Conversely, Richard asserted that she did not need pendente lite support because she had moved back in with her mother after the separation. He argued that as a result of moving in with her mother, she did not have any real roof expenses, and as such her budget did not reflect the need for spousal support. 

Under 5:5-2, both parties had filed case information statements. According to the case information statements, the parties basically represented that their previous joint marital lifestyle cost about $ 6,100 a month to maintain. Richard alleged that his current monthly budget post-separation amounted to $ 6,432, and that after paying his other expenses, he did not have enough funds left over to pay alimony. On the other hand April represented that her current monthly budget was $ 2,691, an amount far lower than the marital lifestyle, although not her choice. She contended that she could not afford a larger budget and lived with her mother because she did not have any more money, and was not receiving any financial support from Richard. 

New Jersey Statute 2A:34-23(b) authorizes Family Part courts to enter alimony awards, and gives Family Part judges discretion to order alimony and support according to the specific circumstances, and the nature of the case, to render a just, reasonable and fit judgment. The support order at issue in Malek was a pendente lite or temporary support order. Pendente lite support is paid while the divorce is still going on until the litigation ends by trial or settlement agreement. The main purpose of pendente lite support is to make sure that both parties remain in the same or similar financial situation they were in before the divorce proceeding began, and to preserve the status quo throughout the divorce litigation.

Motions for pendente lite support are some of the most frequently filed motions in divorce practice. This type of support is important because in the state of New Jersey it is quite common for a divorce to last over a year or even multiple years. As permanent alimony payments are ordered at the end of a divorce proceeding, it is important for some spouse’s to have pendente lite orders in place to maintain temporary support for them until the divorced is finalized. Determinations of pendente lite support awards are usually based on the limited evidence available at that time, like contradicting certifications or case information statements, and oral testimony. As a result, it is possible that on some occasions that the court may not have a reasonably complete picture of litigants’ finances before trial. That is why pendente lite support orders may be subject to future review and modification. 

Marital lifestyle or standard of living is only one part of an alimony determination. Before the 2014 statutory amendments, according this state’s alimony statute, the goal of alimony was to help the supported spouse achieve a lifestyle reasonably comparable to one enjoyed during the marriage. Therefore, the “marital lifestyle” was an appropriate and relevant factor to consider in ever alimony case. That said, even before the enactment of the 2014 amendments to the alimony statute, “marital lifestyle” was still not the only and exclusive factor in consider in an alimony analysis. Under New Jersey’s alimony law it was only one of many criteria a court may consider. 

The New Jersey Legislature enacted several amendments to the alimony statute in 2014. Even though the marital standard of living was still a relevant factor, it was not the only factor nor the most important factor. The new amendments require Family Part courts to also consider the realistic impact of the spouse’s need for separate houses and the increase in living costs on their ability to maintain a standard of living reasonably comparable to the one enjoyed during the marriage. Furthermore, according to the amendments neither spouse had a greater right to that marital standard of living than the other. Moreover, the law now explicitly states that no factor carries more weight than any other factor. 

Richard argued that April now had less need for alimony because she had moved back in with her mother. Judge Jones, however, found that she had only moved back in with her mother out of financial necessity. She did not have enough money to afford her own place, and so she moved in with her mother. This situation is quite common after a marital separation. Such a situation does not mean that a supporting spouse is just allowed transfer his obligation to a third party, who is temporarily helping out  due to dire circumstances, out of the goodness of their heart. 

Judge Jones stated that even though the Family Part court can consider the totality of all factors in the particular case, it would still not be equitable or appropriate to deny April a reasonable award of temporary support to maintain a reasonable budget, just because her mother was currently trying to help her out. Richard earned $ 90,000 a year, and Judge Jones found that he had the ability to pay a level of alimony that was mutually fair. Still, it would not be appropriate to impoverish Richard with an uneven alimony award to ensure April retained the prior marital lifestyle. According to Judge Jones, in divorce, economic downsizing must be shared by both spouses equally, not just by the supporting or supported spouse. The amount of pendente lite alimony must not deprive the supporting spouse of his or her own right to reasonably support him or herself. 

As our law firm only handles divorce and family law cases, we can help you with any questions that you may have regarding alimony.