One of the first concerns clients often voice goes something like: “I want alimony.” After all she put me through, “I want alimony!” “Can I get alimony?” The short answer is: Whether you get alimony is usually not a “Yes” or “No” answer.
Alimony is rooted in the notion that marriage is a partnership and upon marriage, each party contributes to the benefit of the other and of the marriage whether both work outside the home, or one works in the home and cares for the children. Alimony is not a punishment or damages for a bad marriage, nor a reward for the payee but an award that will enable the supported spouse to share in the accumulated economic rewards of the marriage because of the payor’s superior income level.
In September 2014, the New Jersey Legislature completely overhauled the alimony statute, N.J.S.A 2A: 34-23, et seq. In large measure, one of the striking changes in the law relates to the duration of alimony. The legislature determined that permanent alimony was common after relatively short marriages, e.g., marriages of 15 years. For example, if a woman got married at 22 and divorced at 37, she could receive alimony at least until her husband’s retirement age of 65. The duration of alimony could exceed the length of the marriage! Under the revised statute, the award of alimony can not exceed the length of the marriage. This means if you were married for eight years you can receive alimony for a maximum of eight years unless a judge determines that there are “exceptional circumstances.”
Alimony ends if the recipient remarries. Consequently, parties have developed all kinds “mechanisms” to engage in long-term, monogamous relationships without actually marrying thereby holding the poor payor’s feet to the alimony fire for the duration of the alimony term. The second most striking revision to the statute has to do with co-habitation. For example, if during the 8 years you are supposed to receive alimony, your “friend” moves in with you, the court may terminate your alimony even if you don’t marry the person!
It is not uncommon when marriages begin to dissolve that the supporting spouse moves out of the marital home. Often the court will require the supporting spouse to pay temporary support, like the mortgage and other expenses, while the litigation is pending. It is nearly certain, that when the judgement of divorce is entered, many of these expenses will be the responsibility of the supported spouse. So, while the payor is anxious to come to settlement because his actual alimony payment may be lower than the temporary support payment. The supported spouse has “nothing but time” and is ingenious in the strategy to delay settlement. The revised alimony statute addresses this issue. To deter the supported spouse’s delay, courts are now required to consider how long temporary support was paid in determining a final alimony award.
Whether you get alimony still requires consideration of factors in addition to the duration of the marriage which include the age, physical and emotional health of the parties; the earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties; the length of time the party seeking alimony has been absent from the job market; who has the children and whether the children have special needs; how much the party seeking alimony will get when the assets of the marriage are shared. All of these factors are considered to determine whether alimony is awarded.