Potential Change in New Jersey Alimony Laws Draws Discussion

New Jersey's alimony laws have been in the headlines of newspapers around the state recently. Women's advocates support the current regime while proponents of change say current alimony laws are too inflexible when it comes to job losses and other significant life changes.

Alimony can make it difficult to start anew after divorce, but an award of alimony is supposed to provide compensation for times during marriage when one spouse sacrifices for the other, such as when one partner puts his or her career goals on hold to allow the other partner to achieve his or hers. In particular, permanent alimony, referred to as "lifetime alimony" in newspaper coverage, has struck the most discord between camps.

Under New Jersey law there are generally three types of alimony: limited duration, rehabilitative and permanent. Permanent alimony is the only type of spousal support in New Jersey that can be indefinite. However, permanent alimony does not necessarily last forever and can be changed or terminated if a court determines there has been a significant change in circumstances. How easily a court approves of a change in permanent alimony is a point of contention between supporters and opponents of the current system.

To make a change in payments under the current law, alimony payors have to petition the court for modification. Individuals who support updating New Jersey's alimony laws say petitioning a court for modification may not be an option for those who cannot afford the costs, and supporters say judges do not have to grant a reduction in payments even if the circumstances justify it. According to The Jersey Journal, New Jersey Assemblyman Sean Kean stated that judges commonly deny requests without reviewing the change in circumstances. And, proponents say the laws are not practical during hard times, especially when payors lose their jobs and face contempt charges and jail time despite their inability to pay.

Supporters of the current law say the same burdens apply to recipients who seek to increase awards, pointing out that a change in the law would especially hurt parents who leave the workforce or scale back work obligations in order to care for family. Such income losses, they say, are felt for a lifetime.

Proponents of change want alimony laws to be more formulaic and argue there should be guidelines for alimony payments in New Jersey like there are for child support payments. Currently, there are no alimony payment guidelines in the state. Proponents are also in favor of proportional alimony to length of marriage, award limits and the right to retire among other measures.

If you feel your alimony payment or support is incorrect, contact an experienced family law attorney to discuss your legal options.