Jailed For Not Paying Alimony?

Updated! For the latest on this case, please see the note at the bottom of this post.

A New Jersey man has sat in jail for the last seven weeks on a “non-support” charge for allegedly failing to pay alimony.

Just another deadbeat ex, or does this story speak to the need for a more vigorous alimony reform debate in the state? Here’s a look at this very controversial case.

As the Hunterdon County Democrat reports (via NJ.com), it all started when John Waldorf was originally ordered to pay $2,000 a week in spousal support to his ex-wife, who is disabled. The couple divorced in 2011 after 11 years of marriage. In addition he was ordered to pay $3,300 in monthly child support.

Waldorf couldn’t pay these amounts, he claims, because he makes far less than his total annual support bill of $120,000+. Bruce Eden, Civil Rights Director, of DADS (Dads Against Discrimination), who is an advocate on Waldorf’s behalf, looked at his tax records and says the highest income reported by Waldorf during the marriage was $147,000 before taxes, making his average take home pay about $90,000 a year.

New Jersey has in place a pretty straightforward process for modifying support payments, based on changes in income and unemployment. Proving support payments exceed a person’s present income, or produce a hardship, can be difficult, and is best be done with the help of an experienced attorney. It is not clear from the press coverage on this case whether Waldorf went through the process of appealing for a modification before he stopped paying, or how much he paid since the award was put in place.

Waldorf claims what is happening to him is unconstitutional, and a sign that New Jersey’s antiquated alimony laws are in dire need of revision. So what should happen? We’re waiting to hear the results of Waldorf’s latest hearing, which was scheduled for December 7.

In the meantime, here are some questions to consider:

— Is jail an appropriate consequence for not paying spousal support? It appears Waldorf lost his job as a result of being jailed. Is wage garnishment (which can be appealed) a better alternative, or something else?
— Are there hidden assets and income in this case that are not being reported?
— In situations where support payments look like they will run high, could couples reach a more workable solution through mediation? For example, one spouse giving up the family home to the other in exchange for reduced payments.
— What happened to the alimony reform debate in the New Jersey legislature? A reform bill was introduced last January, but since then, it seems to have been indefinitely tabled.

For the record, the judge involved in the case has so far not made a comment about how these support numbers were calculated.

Over at NJ.com, the latest news update on this case sparked over 800 comments and counting, most of which are sympathetic to Waldorf and alimony reform. What do you think — is this kind of alimony award ever fair? And is jail time the answer for not paying? Let us know below!

Update! On December 18, the State Supreme Court ruled that Waldorf could go free on the condition that he must pay at least $1,000 a week in alimony starting no later than Wednesday, Dec. 19. He has 30 days to get a new job if he can’t return to the company he was working for when he was jailed. When he starts working his wages will be garnished.

According to the Hunterdon County Democrat, if Waldorf fails to comply, he could find himself back in jail and/or facing other sanctions. Also under the order, the Appellate Division of the State Superior Court is to accelerate Waldorf’s appeal regarding his alimony.