Alimony Reform Close, But What Can You Do Now to Reduce Spousal Support?

Alimony reform is in the air in New Jersey. Following the lead of Massachusetts and Florida, legislation is being introduced to overhaul the state’s current rules for awarding spousal support, which many say are outdated for today’s economic conditions.

Already in February, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill intended to streamline alimony modifications when payers lose their jobs. Another bill in the works creates a Blue Ribbon Commission to research and suggest further changes.

There’s a need for reform, advocates say, because longstanding New Jersey rules for determining spousal support give judges too much unmeasured discretion in deciding how to prioritize the various factors and how to translate them into dollar amounts — resulting in wildly inconsistent alimony awards.

“The reality of the situation is the judges don’t consistently follow that law,” says New Jersey Assemblyman Sean Kean (R-Monmouth), one of the alimony reform bill’s sponsors. “I heard stories from people who had drastic changed circumstances – retirees and pensioners who go from 100% to 60% of income. Or especially in these tough times, when people lose jobs and go to court, and judges just refuse to give them the opportunity to even be heard … Some of these people are winding up in jail because they’re not able to keep up.”

In New Jersey, permanent lifetime alimony, with no end even at retirement, is awarded in marriages less than 10 years long, awarded to men and women who are employed full-time making good salaries, as well as those who refuse to work despite education, work history, and good health. Reform proponents want to see an end to lifetime alimony, changes regarding who qualified for support, as well as limits on how long spousal support payments are required in cases where marriages only last a few years.

Change may be on the way, but are you already in the process of divorce or currently making alimony payments? Lawmakers plan to “grandfather” in anyone currently making support payments if and when proposed changes go into effect. In the meantime, here are 3 tips for reducing your payments:

1. Mediate Spousal Support: In private divorce mediation, you and your spouse work with a mediator to negotiate the terms of alimony payments. Rather than place control of spousal support in a judge’s hands, which can be a dice roll for both of you, this gives you more control over the outcome and how payments, if any, will be structured. Creative mediators may be able to come up with solutions (giving up claim to certain assets, etc.) to help you avoid alimony altogether.

2. Negotiate with Your Former Spouse: In cases where you already making payments, if you are on good terms with your former spouse, explain why you think payments are too high and request a reworking of your arrangement. If you have just lost your job, are retired, have a health condition or are on disability, this may be the easiest, most effective way to get an immediate change in what you are paying. Just be sure to have a family law attorney formalize your arrangement to avoid legal troubles down the road!

3. File a Motion to Terminate or Reduce Alimony: You will need to work with a divorce lawyer and be prepared to provide a lot of documentation, but current New Jersey rules do offer a number of grounds for filing for reduced or eliminated alimony payments.

– Has your former spouse seen a rise in her income since your divorce? A judge may view this as reason to terminate alimony.
– Lost your job, but your former spouse is gainfully employed? A judge may be willing to reduce or eliminate alimony in this case — or you could qualify for receiving alimony from your former spouse, depending on the circumstances.

Other situations that may qualify as a grounds for reducing alimony include retirement, health reasons, long-term unemployment, or a failed business.

Looking for answers to your questions about alimony — or have a situation that you think qualifies you for reduced spousal support payments? Please contact us to get answers to your situation.

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