Lifetime Alimony for Long-term Homemakers: Does This Still Exist in New Jersey?
This week marked National Housewives Day (November 3), now sometimes referred to as National Homemakers Day, in recognition of the fact that a “homemaker” is not always a “wife.” Traditionally, of course, a housewife was the person who ran the household while the husband went off to work each day to bring home the bacon. How difficult the job of housewife was depended on a slew of variables, such as how much bacon the husband brought home, how big the house was, how much if any extra help was available, and how many children there were to attend to. For most, however, the job was very difficult indeed—more difficult in fact than many 9-5 jobs.
While the number of traditional homemakers may have decreased in recent decades (even with some househusbands joining the ranks) the job today is as challenging as ever. In honor of these hardworking homemakers, today we are going to provide an update on a couple of questions of great importance to any homemaker facing separation or divorce:
– What are my rights to alimony in New Jersey following alimony reform?
– If I have been a homemaker for a long time, can I still get lifetime alimony?
The New Rules for Open Durational Alimony
It’s been a little over a year since alimony reform became a reality in New Jersey. While one of the biggest reforms was the elimination of “permanent alimony,” this was not as major a change as it might have first appeared. Alimony awards can still be of “open duration,” meaning that they have no predetermined ending date. To receive an open durational award, however, in most cases your marriage must have lasted for at least 20 years. Unless exceptional circumstances exist, those married for less than 20 years are restricted to alimony awards with durations no longer than the durations of their marriages.
For those who meet the threshold requirements for duration of marriage, open durational alimony awards are not all that different from permanent alimony awards. Permanent alimony was never truly permanent anyway; it was always subject to modification or termination due to substantial changes in circumstance. Circumstances must also change before a court will modify or terminate open durational alimony. Under the revised statue, however, there are more specific guidelines regarding modification or termination under certain conditions, such as an obligor’s involuntary loss of income or retirement, or a recipient’s cohabitation with a new partner.
The Retirement Issue
Of great significance to the “lifetime” alimony question is a new rebuttable presumption that alimony will terminate when an obligor reaches full retirement age. Previously, an obligor could request a termination or modification based on retirement, but would have to prove that the retirement created a substantial change in circumstances. The new presumption says that reaching full retirement age automatically creates such a change, but this is “rebuttable,” meaning that an alimony recipient can still present financial information showing why the alimony should not terminate.
So is it still possible to receive alimony for life? Yes, but it would certainly not be common. Let’s look at one example of how it might happen:
Divorced Homemakers and Retirement: Ron and Mary
Mary and Ron are both 57. Ron is an engineer and Mary has been a homemaker since the couple married 34 years ago. Mary stayed home to raise their three children, and even after they were all off to college, there was plenty to keep her occupied at home. She did some volunteer work for a few hours each week, but neither she nor Ron ever felt any pressure for her to bring in income. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens even in the best of marriages, Mary and Ron grew apart and recently decided to divorce. Under the new version of New Jersey’s alimony statute, Mary has received an “open durational” alimony award.
Ten years pass, and both Mary and Ron are now 67 years old. Mary has not remarried, and she is not cohabiting with a new long-term partner. For a few years after the divorce she received minimum wage for some work that was similar to the work she had previously performed on a volunteer basis. The income was never high enough to affect the alimony payments from Ron, and when her paid position was discontinued a couple of years ago she resumed her volunteer work.
Ron has now reached full retirement age. He is ready to retire and does not think he should have to continue paying Mary alimony. Under the revised statue, he will be permitted to stop the payments unless Mary presents financial information demonstrating that she still needs the money. If she does this, a court will then balance her needs against Ron’s ability to continue paying during his retirement.
Mary looks over her financial information and determines that she will have difficulty covering her current expenses if she loses the alimony payments, so she decides to present this information to the court. Ron has done very well throughout his career. Consequently, his financial information shows that his income in retirement will remain very close to his income during his working years, and that if he stops paying alimony it will actually increase. After considering all of this information, the judge orders Ron to continue paying Mary alimony, but in a reduced amount. The overall effect of the modification is that Ron’s retirement reduces income slightly for both of them, but the reduction is more balanced between them.
Are you a homemaker with a question about how much alimony you might receive and for how long you can expect to receive it? The experienced alimony attorneys at Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group, LLC can help. Please contact us today to schedule your initial consultation.