As we recently discussed, Florida’s legislature took up a measure that would end permanent alimony in that state. Following hot on its heels, the New Jersey legislature recently began considering a bill that would make a major change to its state divorce law. Some states, including South Carolina, still permit “permanent” alimony, meaning after a divorce one spouse can end up paying money to the other spouse for the rest of their lives.
Under New Jersey’s current law, the court may award four types of alimony: permanent, limited duration, rehabilitative, and reimbursement. The new proposed measure would end the permanent alimony option, to hopefully ensure that some alimony-paying spouses are not forced to spend the rest of their lives writing checks to their ex’s. Though many people make the “’til death do us part” vow, most don’t expect to be held to it after they’ve chosen to divorce.
The new proposal would eliminate permanent alimony awards and instead establish guidelines that would limit the duration of alimony based on the length of the marriage. For instance, if a marriage lasts five years or less, then the maximum alimony term is one-half of the number of the marriage. For those marriages that last less than 10 years but more than five years, then the length of alimony is capped at 60 percent of the number of months of the marriage. Marriages that last between 10 and 15 years could see alimony capped at 70 percent of the months of the marriage. Couples who were together between 15 and 20 years will have the duration of their alimony capped at 80 percent the length of their marriage. Finally, couples who were married for longer than 20 years can receive alimony for an indefinite amount of time.
Beyond capping the length of the alimony, the New Jersey proposal aims to cap the amount of money one spouse would have to pay. The law says that the limited duration alimony should not exceed the recipient’s need or 30 to 35 percent of the difference in the two spouses’ incomes. A judge could only deviate from this rule if he or she issues a written finding explaining why a deviation is required.
As expected, opponents have come out against the measure, claiming it unfairly targets women who rely on alimony income to survive. Advocates of the change say reform is badly needed so that divorce laws can keep pace with changes in society. The fact is more and more women are working and earning as much or more than their husbands, and it may be time to revisit alimony laws to determine if they are outdated.