Words from Counsel: Focus on Family Law

By Sylvia S. Costantino, Esq.

Alimony Reform

Dear Reader,

For decades, men were the sole breadwinners in the family. As such, women were left to tend to the home, the children, and occasionally pursue an outside career, albeit part-time. When a divorce occurred, the result was often financially devastating to the wife, and thus, alimony was born.

While original alimony laws strove to protect wives from becoming penniless in the event of a divorce, the dynamics of our society have made that notion seem somewhat antiquated. Fast-forward to the 21st century, and women are now employed in nearly every profession, sometimes earning far more than their spouses. The differences in educational and employment opportunities for women, coupled with changes in gender roles and an economy that often requires both spouses to work, have foreshadowed the long-awaited changes to the alimony laws.

New Jersey is now a breath away from reforming our alimony law as the bill, which will overhaul the system, awaits Governor Christie’s signature. By the time this article goes to print, it may very well be a reality. The reform comes after a two-year battle among lawmakers and many modifications to the bill. Some reformers were vying for more major changes to the alimony law and criticize the version of the bill that was fast-tracked through the Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committee.

In any event, change is still change and should be considered a step in the right direction. Some changes that will be brought about by the new alimony law, which will mostly apply to future divorces, are:

• “Permanent alimony” will be replaced with “open durational alimony;”

• Cohabitation (defined in the bill as involving a “mutually supportive, intimate personal relationship in which a couple has undertaken duties and privileges that are commonly associated with marriage or civil union”) can result in modification or termination of alimony payments;

• Changed circumstances, i.e. loss of employment, involuntary reduction in income, etc. and the remedies available to the obligor (after they are out of work for 90 days) have been more defined, including temporary remedies;

• For marriages (or civil unions) lasting less than 20 years, the length of alimony payments cannot exceed the term of the marriage except in “exceptional circumstances” as determined by the judge; and

• A rebuttable presumption will exist that alimony should be terminated (except for arrearages) upon the obligor reaching full retirement age (as defined by the federal Social Security Act).

If you already pay or receive alimony, will this new reform affect you? As divorce and alimony laws continue to be defined and change, it is crucial to have an experienced attorney on your side to protect your interests and answer your questions and concerns. Call me today so that we can discuss your options and how the new alimony laws could affect your divorce.

Until next month….SSC

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