Types of Alimony in New Jersey
In the following two-part blog series, we will explore the different types of alimony in New Jersey and the circumstances in which each type may be appropriate. Because alimony represents a large (and sometimes indefinite) flow of income from one party to another, it is important to discuss your legal options with a knowledgeable divorce and family law attorney who may be able to answer specific questions about how New Jersey’s alimony laws apply to your specific situation.
There are four types of alimony, also referred to as “spousal maintenance” or “spousal support” in some jurisdictions, in New Jersey. Following the national trend, Gov. Chris Christie modernized spousal maintenance in the Garden State during his tenure. Formerly, alimony was meant to punish a misbehaving spouse, to ensure a once-dependent spouse could survive in the event of a divorce, and to penalize a spouse for leaving a marriage. As gender roles and family law have changed in recent years, alimony has undergone a predictable shift. Now, the purpose of alimony is to provide temporary assistance until a spouse is reasonably able to take care of him or herself. In light of that view, permanent alimony – where an ex-spouse is required to pay until death – is no longer available to divorcing couples in New Jersey.
Instead, these are the four types of alimony available in New Jersey:
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An “open durational” alimony scheme was meant to replace permanent alimony in New Jersey, though the new term is more precise and limiting. An “open durational” alimony award should be paid until the recipient no longer needs the payment. Whereas permanent alimony implied a lifetime of payments, this new type of alimony will only continue as long as the recipient cannot meet his or her own needs or make money. Unless “extraordinary circumstances” are present, open durational alimony will only be appropriate for marriages that lasted 20 years or longer.
When the ex-spouse paying open durational alimony believes that open durational alimony is no longer appropriate, he or she will need to initiate a legal proceeding. The New Jersey judge will alter the alimony when there has been a significant change in circumstances. Conversely, a legally executed agreement between the two spouses could alter an open durational alimony payment.
There is a rebuttable presumption that the alimony will end when the paying spouse reaches retirement age, as defined by the Social Security Administration. A “rebuttable presumption” is a legal term for determining the which party has the “burden of proof.” In short, when a spouse who has been obligated to pay “open durational” alimony reaches retirement age, then the spouse receiving the alimony payment will need to present sufficient proof to a court for why alimony payments should continue. To overcome the “rebuttable presumption,” a New Jersey Court will look at the following factors:
- The age of both parties at the time the alimony-paying party applies for retirement.
- The age of the parties at the time of marriage and the time that alimony was awarded by the court.
- The degree, duration, and reasonableness of one party’s economic dependency on the other.
- If anything, such as rights or property, was given up in exchange for a longer alimony award
- The duration and amount of alimony already paid
- The health of both parties at the time the alimony-paying party applies for retirement
- The assets and debts of both parties at the time the alimony-paying party applies for retirement
- If the alimony-paying spouse has reached the age required to receive full retirement benefits
- Both parties’ sources of income, whether earned or unearned
- The alimony-receiving party’s ability to save for retirement
- Any other factor the New Jersey judge deems relevant