Alimony is one of the most contentious issues involved in divorce. No one wants to pay it, but everyone thinks they’re entitled to it.
Historically, alimony was created to help prevent women who had put their own careers to the side to support their husbands and care for their children from becoming financially destitute. The higher-earning husband was expected to make continued payments to his ex-wife until she remarried or became self-supporting.
But now, in the wake of more gender equality with many women earning as much money or more than their spouses, the times have changed. Below, I reveal five of the most important things you should know about New Jersey alimony laws. If you have any questions about alimony, I am available to meet with you. As a trained mediator and alimony attorney in Freehold, NJ, I can explain the alimony process and how I can help.
Alimony is Not Based on Gender
There are 14 factors that courts consider when awarding alimony in New Jersey. Sex is not one of them.
The court will look at the requesting party’s circumstances and need for alimony. It will also look at whether the other spouse has the ability to pay. The court will not consider the sex of either party, so a husband could wind up receiving alimony, just as a wife might or a partner in a same-sex marriage.
There Is No Permanent Alimony in New Jersey (Usually)
In 2014, New Jersey overhauled its alimony system. One of the major changes was to eliminate “permanent” alimony. In most cases, the length of alimony cannot last for more years than the marriage. For example, if the marriage lasted ten years, alimony can usually only last up to ten years.
The court will allow for alimony to last longer, however, when there are “exceptional circumstances,” which include:
• The age of each spouse at the time of marriage and divorce
• The degree to which one spouse is financially dependent on the other spouse
• Whether a spouse has a chronic illness or other unusual health circumstance
• Whether one spouse has received a much larger share of the marital estate
• The impact of the marriage on a spouse’s ability to become self-supporting
• Tax considerations
• Any other relevant factor
Alimony reform laws did not retroactively apply to awards before the effective date of the new law. So, if you were divorced before 2014, you may still receive or owe permanent alimony.
Alimony Can Be Modified
Alimony can last a long time. During this time, anything could happen. You or your ex could lose a job, develop a serious health issue, or retire. If your financial circumstances change, you can ask the court to modify the alimony order.
One of the most common reasons to seek a modification of alimony is due to a decrease in income. Self-employed individuals must show that their income reduction is involuntary.
Traditionally employed spouses who suffer a reduction in income can ask for a reduction in alimony after 90 days of experiencing that reduction.
The court will consider various factors when determining whether to grant the request, including:
• The reason for the income loss
• The supporting spouse’s efforts to find employment
• Whether the supporting spouse has made a good faith effort to find a new job
• The supporting spouse’s income
• The recipient spouse’s circumstances
Cohabitation Can End Alimony
If you are paying alimony and your spouse shacks up with a new romantic partner, you might be able to get rid of the burden of alimony. This is true even if your ex doesn’t live together with their partner all the time.
New Jersey courts consider a number of factors to determine if your ex is in a cohabiting relationship, which is defined as a “mutually supportive, intimate relationship.” These factors are:
• Whether the couple is living together
• Whether they share living expenses
• If they have intermingled finances
• If they share household chores
• The length of the relationship
• Whether the couple’s family members and friends recognize the relationship
• Whether the new partner promised to support the spouse receiving alimony
• Other relevant evidence
There Might Be Tax Benefits to Alimony
Before 2019, alimony paid was a tax deduction, which provided a little bit of an incentive for higher-earning spouses to agree to spousal support. However, alimony payments made under a divorce or separation agreement entered into after 2018, or that was modified after this and stated that the new tax treatment would apply, can no longer be deducted for federal tax purposes.
However, if you’re paying alimony, you can deduct these payments on your state tax return. Your spouse must report alimony they received as income on their state tax return.
If you have any questions about alimony in New Jersey or would like to try to work out an agreement with your spouse, contact me today for a free, no-obligation consultation.