On September 10, 2014, Governor Chris Christie signed into law a bill which significantly modifies the manner in which alimony is awarded in divorce cases. The law now gives judges, lawyers and litigants a set of guidelines to follow when determining how much the alimony award should be and for how long the alimony awarded should be made.
The modifications are only prospective and will not have any impact on divorce settlements or Orders of the Court already in effect.
Under the new law, in any case where a party seeks alimony, the judge will be required to issue a written ruling explaining his or her analysis of the relevant factors in determining whether or not an award of alimony is appropriate in that particular case.
If the marriage or civil union lasts less than 20 years, an alimony award will not exceed the length of the relationship unless there are exceptional circumstances.
The factors to be considered by a judge in determining whether an alimony award is appropriate include the following: the ages of the parties when they were married and when the relationship ended, the need of both parties for separate homes, the ability of both parties to maintain a standard of living, the dependency of one party on the other, whether one party has particular health problems, whether a spouse has given up a career or otherwise supported the career of the other spouse and whether a spouse has received a disproportionate share of the marital estate.
The law also provides that alimony payments may now be modified or terminated when the payer reaches full retirement age. Courts will also be allowed to suspend or terminate alimony if the receiving spouse establishes a "cohabitation" relationship with another person.
The new rules also gives judges greater authority to modify alimony awards if the payer becomes unemployed involuntarily or experiences a substantial change in his or her financial circumstances. Specifically, a payer who loses his or her job will be allowed to make an application for a modification in payments after being unemployed for a minimum of 90 days.
Over the next months and years, the New Jersey Courts will render decisions further interpreting the new law and clarifying any confusion or uncertainty which may now exist.