Along with custody and parenting issues, alimony is often the hinge pin of most divorce cases. Disclosing income, assessing employment prospects, and determining how spouses will support themselves after the divorce are central to calculating alimony payments and determining what type of compensation, if any, applies.
As an alimony lawyer in Freehold, NJ, reaching a middle ground that addresses the means and needs of both parties is my job. My goal is to follow protocols and guide clients to a satisfactory resolution that conforms to their needs and New Jersey alimony laws. By working cooperatively with both parties, we can change the tone of the process, overcome challenges, and achieve a satisfactory resolution.
Alimony is a form of financial support paid by one spouse for the other’s support and maintenance. Traditionally, the husband would be responsible for supporting his financially dependent ex-wife after divorce. However, alimony has evolved along with gender roles. Today, either a husband or wife may be responsible for paying alimony to his or her ex-spouse. In some cases, neither party is required to pay alimony if both the husband and wife work and have the means to support themselves with a lifestyle similar to the one they lived during the marriage.
New Jersey used to recognize four types of alimony: limited duration alimony, permanent alimony, rehabilitative alimony and reimbursement alimony, or a combination thereof. New Jersey, however, has eliminated permanent alimony, and replaced it with “open durational alimony.”
New Jersey alimony law provides that for any marriage that lasts less than 20 years, the total duration of alimony cannot last longer than the length of the marriage. New Jersey courts now look to certain exceptional circumstances that might change the duration of alimony.
Limited duration alimony is awarded for similar reasons and for the same purpose as permanent alimony. Usually due to a shorter term marriage, the length or “duration” of alimony is limited to a defined number of months or years.
Rehabilitative alimony provides compensation for education and career development. Rehabilitative alimony grants one spouse financial support to gain key job skills or to secure a degree so he or she can become self-supporting.
With reimbursement alimony, the person who completed additional education during the marriage is expected to repay the other spouse for their support.
Because the traditional divorce process is lengthy, New Jersey provides for temporary alimony (usually referred to as pendent lite alimony) to support one party during the proceedings in order to maintain the parties’ financial status quo. In some cases, one spouse is required to pay for the other’s attorney costs so both parties have adequate legal representation. If one party pays temporary alimony during the divorce proceedings, this is also taken into consideration when calculating how much and the duration of alimony after divorce.
Determining alimony is a complex process that considers many factors. The court specifically considers 14 factors when determining whether to award alimony, which include:
• The spouse’s need for support and the other spouse’s ability to pay
• The length of the marriage
• The age and health of the spouses
• The standard of living the spouses enjoyed during the marriage
• The education, job skills, work history, and earning capacity of each spouse
• The amount of time the recipient spouse was absent from the job market
• The allocation of parental responsibilities
• The time and expense required to obtain sufficient education or job training
• The contributions each spouse made to the marriage
• The separate property of each spouse
• The income available to either spouse through investments
• Tax consequences of any spousal award
• The nature, amount, and duration of pendente lite support that was paid
• Any other factor the court considers relevant
In New Jersey, there is not a set formula that is used to determine the amount of alimony one spouse will pay to the other. Instead, courts consider the factors discussed above when calculating alimony payments. There is no guarantee that alimony will be ordered or in what amount.
Being fair is one of the important requirements in all aspects of determining alimony. One spouse cannot be left without support while the other maintains a high standard of living. By the same token, one spouse shouldn’t be enriched by excessive support while the other struggles to pay.
Once you file a complaint for divorce, you will have 35 days to also file a Case Information Sheet that details important information about your finances, including your income, assets, expenses, and liabilities. Your spouse must complete this form, too. The information contained on this form must be accurate and can have a significant impact on the amount of alimony ordered in your case.
Prior to 2019, paying alimony offered a tax incentive for the paying spouse because he or she received a tax deduction for these payments. Meanwhile, the spouse who received alimony payments had to count the payments as income and pay income tax on them.
However, the tax law has since changed. Alimony payments are no longer taxable and do not give a deduction to the paying spouse. Agreements that were entered into before 2019 are treated according to the old tax scheme.
If you and your spouse entered into a valid prenuptial agreement, this agreement instead of New Jersey law may dictate the alimony award. A prenuptial agreement is a legally binding contract between two people who are contemplating marriage together. It typically details what happens with your property and finances in the event of divorce. Your prenuptial agreement may state that you have waived any right to alimony, or it may indicate how much alimony support you can receive and how this amount is to be calculated.
All alimony awards except for reimbursement alimony are generally able to be modified after your divorce. To modify your alimony award, you will have to show that there was a substantial change in circumstances that occurred since the alimony order was made. Such changes may include:
• The recipient spouse has remarried or is cohabiting with a new romantic partner
• Either spouse became disabled
• The paying spouse has retired
• There has been a significant change in the job or earnings of either spouse
Alimony awards are part of the divorce decree and can, therefore, be enforced by the court. If your spouse is not paying you the financial support he or she was ordered to pay, you can file a motion with the court to enforce the order. In this motion, you can ask the court to help you get the money you are owed by:
• Ordering your ex to pay you the money owe in one lump sum
• Garnishing your ex’s wages
• Having a warrant issued for your ex’s arrest
The judge will decide which legal remedies are appropriate.
Although alimony is often a contentious legal issue, spouses can reach their own agreement regarding alimony payments, especially when they have the help of a trained mediator. The goal of mediation is for parties to reach an amicable agreement that they can both live with.
Mediating your alimony case can offer you a number of benefits, including:
• Time and money savings – The less time you spend in the courtroom, the more time and money you can save. You and your spouse can split the cost of mediation and you don’t have to have a lawyer during this process unless you want one.
• Control and clarity – When you mediate your agreement, you know what you are agreeing to ahead of time. You can avoid surprises that can occur in court. Also, you can avoid the speculation of wondering about how further alimony reform laws may impact your particular case.
• Greater likelihood of compliance – Because you and your spouse are part of the decision-making process, you will both be more likely to comply with any agreement you reach. This can help create a more secure future for both of you and also avoid nasty post-divorce hearings.
• Better relationship between you and your spouse – Just because you are getting divorced does not necessarily mean that you will no longer be interacting with your spouse. Mediation puts the parties on the same side of a legal issue and focuses on respect and good communication. This often allows spouses to emerge from the process still on friendly, or at least civil, terms.
• Customization to your particular needs – You and your spouse can consider your unique circumstances and needs when putting together your plan. This makes your agreement more likely to suit your individual needs.
As your Monmouth county family lawyer or mediator, we will work together to create an individualized agreement that accomplishes your support needs in an equitable manner. Contact the Law Office of Andrew R. Fischer to discuss your alimony case today. I’m pleased to offer complimentary consultations to couples and individuals throughout central New Jersey.