If you’ve kept up with the headlines in New Jersey this past week, you may be aware that a long-awaited alimony reform bill concerning permanent “lifetime” alimony has been passed by both the New Jersey State Assembly and Senate and sent to Governor Christie, who is expected to approve the measure sometime this summer. With alimony reform in New Jersey so close at hand, it’s almost certain that those going through the process of divorce right now (or contemplating divorce) have questions and concerns about how reform laws will affect their spousal support arrangements. This may be especially true for stay-at-home spouses and stay-at-home parents, the two groups most likely to request lifetime alimony.
What can we expect from New Jersey’s alimony reform? For starters, according to the new laws, “permanent” alimony will now be called “open durational” alimony. This isn’t just a name change. While permanent alimony in New Jersey has been awarded in fewer and fewer cases in recent years, the new laws concerning open durational alimony will limit this form of support even further. Courts will still be able to order open durational alimony in marriages that exceed 20 years, or shorter marriages where “exceptional circumstances” exist. In marriages of less than 20 years, the limits on durational alimony will be the length of the marriage, except in the case of extraordinary circumstances (i.e., medical or mental disability).
To give some perspective on what all this means, we can think about the typical stay-at-home parent in New Jersey, who probably left a career after making the decision to have kids because it was assumed that in the event of divorce, permanent lifetime alimony would be easily available to compensate for the fact that re-entering some careers is difficult, if not impossible, after stepping away from the workforce for even a short amount of time.
It is clear from the wording of the New Jersey alimony reform bill that any prior assurance that “no matter what” permanent alimony will be an option for at-home spouses is simply no longer the case. With the lengthier list of factors and formulas that will be taken into consideration and scrutinized by the Courts, the number of permanent/open durational spousal support awards will almost certainly reach an all-time low.
For at-home spouses in New Jersey, alimony reform is a clear signal to take a hard look at what might potentially happen in a divorce. Here’s one important reason why: even with the new laws, spouses still have the option of requesting something called a post-nuptial agreement, a type of legal relationship agreement married couples can sign to outline their own terms for alimony, as well as asset division issues. Instead of leaving it up to the Court to interpret alimony reform law changes, and hope that they meet certain factors, the at-home spouse can get it in writing during the marriage that, if ever needed, permanent alimony is a done deal. For those prior to marriage, a prenuptial agreement can be an even stronger legal document used to help outline your financial futures and more. It is important to at least consider taking one of these steps, even if for your own peace of mind.
What else do you need to know at this point? We have written before about the need for stay-at-home spouses and stay-at-home parents to put in place provisions outlining what happens after divorce. If you are in one of these groups, we encourage you to read “Thinking About Becoming a Stay-At-Home Mom or Dad? Here’s Why You Need a Post-Nup.” Of course, the hope is that every marriage will last forever, but for many serious reasons, we all know this isn’t always a realistic expectation. Whatever your feelings about alimony reform, we hope you take some time to reflect on how it might affect your situation.