There has been a lot of discussion recently about proposed legislation for a major overhaul of the New Jersey Alimony Statute. (Assembly bill No 3909) What has caught a lot of people’s attention is the fact that under the new language, the phrase “permanent alimony” has been removed and a specific formula has been included to determine the length of alimony that should be imposed. For example, if a couple is married for 13 years, and alimony is appropriate, the term of the alimony would be nine years and one month. If a couple is married 8 years, the term would be four years ten months. Etc. All of this has lead many people and commentators to proclaim that permanent alimony is dead. Unfortunately, they are wrong.
Permanent alimony is still alive and well under the proposed new alimony statute, it’s just more limited in when it can be applied. Under the new statute, in marriages that last more than twenty (20) years, the court shall have the discretion to award alimony “for an indefinite length of time.” Perhaps it’s just me, but that sounds an awful lot like permanent alimony to me. In addition, even in the marriages that are under twenty (20) years the court has the discretion to “deviate” from the term limits set out in the statute “in the interest of justice.” The only requirement is that the court must clearly state why it feels it is appropriate to deviate. That doesn’t seem like much of a impediment, especially since the court is already required to make specific findings of fact and law on all its other rulings.
But wait, there is another provision of the statute that says alimony will terminate when the paying spouse becomes eligible for social security. Certainly that would mean that there has to be an end date for support and that alimony is no longer permanent. Again, the devil is in the details. Again, the court can extend the alimony award “for good cause shown” provided it makes specific findings and sets the reasons on the record. Well, what exactly is “good cause.” If the couple is already in their late fifties when they get divorced, is that good cause to have alimony paid beyond retirement age? What if it’s a situation where there are no assets to be divided and the only source of support will be the alimony? Is that good cause? It might be.
In the end, for all that has been stated about the new changes to the alimony statute, the term limits, and the elimination of “permanent alimony” from the language, in the end, I don’t think this is going to have nearly as much of an impact as most. The reality is that if you are in a long term marriage, i.e. over twenty years, or are in your late fifties or older, there is still a good chance you could be paying alimony “indefinitely.”