A New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee has passed amendments to New Jersey’s currently outdated and oppressive alimony laws. As reported by Marketwatch the effort was headed by Democratic Senator Nicholas Scutari with support from the New Jersey Alimony Reform and its director, Tom Leustek–whose efforts toward this end were previously reported in our blog post about Ending Lifetime Alimony.
Prior to this legislation, New Jersey’s alimony laws were incredibly outdated and failed to account for financial losses suffered by payers. If a payer lost a job or suffered any sort of debilitating medical condition or other major lifestyle change, they would have by law been forced to pay the same amount of alimony regardless of whether or not they were financially able to do so. The new legislation allows courts to take those sorts of issues into account and provides a greater cushion on which payers can fall should a debilitating loss or issue come into play.
According to the old legislation repercussions for failing to pay alimony were almost comically medieval. Payers who were unable to afford the court-appointed alimony faced bankruptcy or jail with work-release clauses (not unlike a debtor’s prison, the article notes). Essentially, a law-abiding citizen could be driven into debt or worse simply for losing a job and/or facing steep medical costs (quite possibly through little to no fault of their own). Although payers were able to come before courts and appeal the payment amounts under the old legislation, the amounts were rarely lowered–and payers were further faced with high legal costs.
The New Jersey Senate modeled its own amendments on the litigation recently passed by the state of Massachusetts, whose new alimony guidelines will be officially law starting March 1st, 2012. A number of testimonies were heard by the Senate from individuals forced to pay alimony and live on next to nothing under the previous laws–one witness as reported by the press release, lived on $351 per week and was to pay alimony to her ex-husband until her death, his death, or until she remarried.
I take it as an incredibly positive step in the right direction that New Jersey’s Senate is reviewing these sorts of issues. It’s far too easy for litigators to sit back and let outdated laws continue unabated while the citizens of a state are forced to deal with the consequences. I hope that these amendments will inspire other groups and organizations to push harder towards change for the good of the general public.
NJAR President Tom Leustek’s next step is to encourage the Senate to organize a Blue Ribbon Commission to make further radical changes to the alimony law–amendments that will hopefully make them more applicable for the present day. If you’re interested in the details of the reform proposals, please check out the New Jersey Reform site found here: http://njalimonyreform.org/.
Got any thoughts about the litigation? Concerns? Let me know in the comments below!