Mainor, Wimberly & Jimenez Introduce Bill to Eliminate Permanent Alimony, Make the System More Equitable

(TRENTON) – Assembly Democrats Charles Mainor, Benjie E. Wimberly and Angelica M. Jimenez have introduced legislation that would revise New Jersey’s alimony laws by eliminating permanent alimony and establishing guidelines for the amount and duration of other types of alimony.

“This bill is an attempt to update our alimony laws which are outdated, and level the playing field,” said Mainor (D-Hudson). “I have heard countless stories from constituents concerning alimony cases with outcomes that were terribly unbalanced. You have some individuals who are paying alimony to former spouses for longer than they were actually married. I understand ’til death do us part’, but it is incredibly unfair for one person to make lifetime contributions to another person when the two are living separate lives and the only thing that binds them, at this point, is their divorce.”

“Sometimes the scales of justice lean too heavily on one side. The purpose of this bill is to bring fairness into the system and ensure that individuals are not disadvantage financially to the point where they cannot even afford to provide for themselves,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Certainly there is a financial responsibility that must be met even after a marriage has ended, but there must be parameters dictating how big it should be and for how long it should be met.”

“I understand why permanent spousal support would be necessary when employment opportunities for women were limited and husbands were the main breadwinners. That is not the case today. The system must catch up,” said Jimenez (D-Bergen/Hudson). “This bill helps make the system more equitable so the payer is not unfairly burdened financially for the rest of their lives.”

Under current law, a court may award four types of alimony: permanent, limited duration, rehabilitative and reimbursement. These types of alimony are designed to address different types of considerations that arise during the dissolution of a marriage or civil union. However, there are no guidelines in the current law concerning the duration or amount of an alimony award.

The bill (A-3909) would eliminate permanent alimony awards and establish guidelines for the term of limited duration alimony based on the length of the marriage. The guidelines are as follow:

  • If the duration of the marriage or civil union is five years or less, the term of alimony would be a maximum of one-half the number of months of the marriage or civil union;
  • If the duration of the marriage or civil union 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 or civil union;
  • If the duration of the marriage or civil union 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 or civil union;
  • If the duration of the marriage or civil union 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 or civil union; and
  • If the duration of the marriage or civil union is greater than 20 years, the court would have discretion to award alimony for an indefinite length of time.

The court would be permitted to deviate from these durational limits in the interest of justice, but would be required to specify the reasons for deviating from the aforementioned limits.

The bill would also provide that the amount of a limited duration alimony award should generally not exceed the recipient’s need or 30 to 35 percent of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes. A court would be permitted to deviate from this guideline upon a written finding that deviation is necessary. Additionally, the court would be permitted to attribute income to either party when it finds that said party is voluntarily underemployed or unemployed.

Under current law, limited duration alimony may be modified based on changed circumstances or upon the absence of circumstances that the court found would occur at the time of the award. The court may modify the amount, but not the length of the term except in unusual circumstances.

The bill would allow suspension, modification or termination of a limited duration alimony award in the event the recipient establishes a cohabitation relationship with another person for a continuous period of at least three months, and only if the court finds that the cohabitation relationship is characterized by stability, permanency, and mutual interdependence, and if the economic benefit inuring to the payee is sufficiently material to constitute a change of circumstances.

Under current law, alimony terminates upon the death of either party and both permanent and limited duration alimony terminate upon the recipient remarrying or establishing a new civil union. Under the bill, alimony would also terminate upon the payer spouse or partner attaining full retirement age when the payer is eligible for the old-age retirement benefit under the federal Social Security act; however, any arrearages that accrued prior to the termination date would not be vacated or annulled.

Lastly, the bill would mandate that rehabilitative alimony not exceed a term of five years. Under the bill, the court would have discretion to extend the term if: (1) unforeseen events prevent the payee from being self-supporting at the end of the term; (2) the payee tried to become self-supporting; and (3) extending rehabilitative alimony would not constitute an undue burden on the payer.

The bill is modeled after the Massachusetts “Alimony Reform Law of 2011,” and would take effect on October 1, 2013. The bill has been introduced to the Assembly Judiciary Committee.