Going through a divorce is difficult for all involved and issues with alimony payments can create further bad blood in an already testy relationship. An alimony payment is money paid by an ex-spouse to the other as ordered by a court in a divorce case. Currently in New Jersey there are two competing legislative proposals to change the alimony laws.
The first seeks to end so-called “permanent” alimony awards that can be approved by judges in situations where one spouse earned more than the other during a marriage. This more aggressive first proposal would set a time limit on all alimony payments, effectively eliminating “permanent” alimony. Those who want this change say that allowing permanent alimony is an outdated idea from an era when women primarily acted as homemakers and risked being left with no means of support if their husbands left them. They also claim that permanent alimony punishes one spouse simply because he/she makes more. This issue is not gender specific. According to research from the Families and Work Institute, around 80 percent of married couples both earn income and slightly more than one in four women make more than their husbands.
The second proposal is less drastic and wants to reform the alimony law to make it easier for the spouse who pays alimony to have it reduced or discontinued after certain events occur, for example if the paying spouse loses his/her job, retires, or discovers that the other spouse has moved in with another partner. This second proposal would allow people in these situations to apply for a reduction 90 days after their circumstances have changed (as opposed to having to hold off applying until it can be proven that the change is permanent). This proposal would also make it easier for either a paying spouse to reduce, suspend, or discontinue payments when he/she retires or if it can be shown that the other spouse is living with a new partner.
Supporters of the second proposal contend that these changes would particularly address problems that increased during the 2007 recession. Many divorced people experienced significant changes in their economic situation but found that alimony modification under the current law was too difficult. These supporters say that their proposal is a better fix for the economic issues at hand and the claim that the current alimony law have not kept up with the times is grossly overstated.
But supporters of the first proposal counter and say that alimony is not needed in a marriage where both spouses have always worked and can be self-supporting. They also claim that the second proposal would just force more people back into to court, making them pay more legal fees, when they have a legitimate reason to stop paying alimony.
Both proposals have their benefits and drawbacks. What proposal do you think is better? Should permanent alimony be done away with entirely or should we just make it easier to reduce or discontinue payments to account for a change in circumstances? Email Mike Farhi @ [email protected]. With the assistance of Charles J. Vaccaro, J.D. Candidate May 2015.