When a married couple or two people in a civil union split up, one is often the primary wage earner, who's provided financial support to the other for many years. In such cases, the court will award alimony to the financially dependent party–the rationale being they need time to adjust to their new life circumstances, obtain training and viable employment.
Alimony orders are almost always temporary. New Jersey courts no longer routinely award "permanent alimony," and they will award none at all if the individuals are equally well off or were married for a very short time.
Alimony is considered separately from property division, custody, and child-support payments and is intended to cover only the dependent spouse's life expenses. New Jersey Title 2A § 34-23(b) provides that a divorce court may award "one or more of the following types of alimony: open durational alimony; rehabilitative alimony; limited duration alimony, or reimbursement alimony to either party."
New Jersey law also allows couples to make their own arrangements as long as they are equally or more generous; the divorce court merely sets a floor for payments. Likewise, the court will only set a payment schedule if the parties cannot agree on one.
Alimony Impacts of Fault-Based vs. No-Fault Divorce
While most New Jersey divorce cases filed in New Jersey courts are filed as "no-fault" divorces, New Jersey also allows an individual to file for divorce based on the fault of the other party. The reason most divorces are filed as no-fault is that the trial is much simpler, with no need to share personal "dirty laundry" with the judge. So why file a fault-based divorce? Although the trial will be lengthier, the injured party may hope to be awarded a larger alimony settlement. Grounds for fault-based divorce include:
- Extreme cruelty: physical or mental abuse
- Desertion: the spouse leaves, and circumstances indicate that they will not return
- Addiction or habitual drunkenness: the spouse has a substance abuse problem and is unable or unwilling to take steps to deal with it
- Imprisonment: the spouse is or will be incarcerated for an extended period of time
- Institutionalization: the spouse is confined to a mental-health facility, either permanently or indefinitely
- Adultery: the spouse is having intimate relations with another person
- Deviant sexual behavior: this term was originally created to refer to homosexual behavior but now covers a wide range of behaviors
Types of Alimony in New Jersey
Open durational alimony is typically awarded when a couple has been together for twenty years or longer. It will continue until one party requests a modification due to a change in circumstances and the court grants the request. For example, if the paying party retires and starts to receive Social Security benefits, a court may rule that the change in circumstances justifies modification. If the retiree is a high-income individual, the court is less likely to approve such a request.
Rehabilitative alimony will be ordered if one party has been out of the workforce for a long time and needs financial support while they learn new skills through college courses or some other type of training.
Limited duration alimony is alimony for a short duration. It is typically awarded when the couple is together for a relatively short time.
Reimbursement alimony is awarded in situations where evidence shows that one spouse financially supported the other while they were studying for a professional degree or other training to advance their own career. Reimbursement alimony was designed to remedy the wrongs of past eras, where wives would work to put their husbands through graduate school only to end up divorced and living in permanently reduced circumstances. Reimbursement alimony is typically limited to household expenses and education costs for the lesser-earning spouse to get back on their feet financially.
Divorce courts have the leeway to order one type or a combination of these types of alimony.
No Set Formula
There is no one formula for an alimony award in New Jersey. Since the circumstances of each marriage vary, the court looks at many factors and sets payments on a case-by-case basis. The factors include, but are not limited to:
- The need of one party and the other's ability to pay.
- Each spouse's age.
- The duration of the relationship. There are no specific rules here, but if a couple has been married or together for fewer than 20 years, the alimony is not allowed to exceed that duration.
- The couple's financial standard of living and respective financial contributions to the household.
- Each spouse's education level and professional certifications, and other indications of potential earning capacity.
- The lesser-earning member's history of contributions, both financial and non-financial. The court looks for evidence of the equivalent of "sweat equity" invested in a business. For example, if the wife worked to put her husband through dental school or some other training to obtain a license or degree to practice a particular occupation, the court is likely to award reimbursement alimony.
- If one former spouse deliberately quits work to avoid having to pay alimony, the other can ask the court to order that person to pay based on what they earned before they quit their job.
Changes in Circumstances
New Jersey allows either person to request a modification in alimony payments–either higher or lower–if there is a change in circumstances for one former partner, which may either increase or decrease the amount needed. Examples of changes in circumstances include, but are not limited to:
- The alimony recipient has remarried.
- The person paying alimony loses their job and is able to prove that the job loss is a permanent change of circumstances.
- The person paying alimony becomes disabled.
- The income of the person receiving alimony becomes higher than that of the person paying alimony.
- The alimony recipient has begun living ("cohabitating") with someone else, and the two are in a relationship.
Cohabitation is not always easy to prove. New Jersey courts define it as "a mutually supportive, intimate personal relationship that is the equivalent of marriage in all but name."
Some alimony recipients go to extensive lengths to hide the fact that they are in a new relationship, so they can continue receiving alimony. They may continue to maintain a separate residence from their new partner or take even more drastic steps to dissemble. For this reason, under New Jersey law, cohabitation does not require that the new couple live together full-time. The courts look at a wide array of factors, including:
- Intermingled finances
- Shared responsibility for living expenses
- Recognition by others that they are a couple
- Frequency of contact
- Shared household chores
- If the alimony recipient has received an enforceable promise of support from someone else. That person need not be a significant other.
- The duration of the new relationship
- Other evidence that would lead a reasonable person to include they are in a relationship, such as spending holidays together or taking vacations together.
Some of this may seem intrusive, but the court needs the information to be able to correctly decide whether to continue compelling a person to send money to a former life partner once the relationship has ended.
In 2021, a New Jersey appellate court ruled that the person asking to end alimony payments need only show that the supported spouse and another person are in "a mutually supportive, intimate personal relationship that indicates the undertaking of duties and privileges commonly associated with marriage, especially when taken together and when the statements presented by the payor are taken for the purposes of assessment as true." This description is intended to cover a wide range of possibilities, and court decisions tend to be nuanced and very fact-specific.
Alimony and Tax Deductions
Previously, the IRS considered alimony payments to be taxable income, which could be deducted by the person paying, and for which the recipient was taxed. Since 2019, alimony payments have been neither taxable nor tax deductible.
The Lento Law Firm Can Help
If you are divorced, considering divorce, or in the middle of a divorce and need advice concerning alimony, a member of the Lento Law Firm Family Law Team can help. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation.