New Jersey Lawmakers Consider Alimony Reform Bills

New Jersey lawmakers consider alimony reform bills

Most people think of divorce as a clean break from a former spouse. But if the divorce settlement includes an alimony award, you could remain financially tied to your ex for years or even a lifetime. Here in New Jersey, court-supervised alimony is paid to about 22,000 former spouses.

Society is very different now than it was when most alimony laws were written.  For starters, women are more likely to work outside the home. And even when one spouse doesn’t work, they often have more education and earning potential than their counterparts did even 50 years ago. For this and other reasons, many New Jersey residents are calling for massive reforms to the state’s alimony laws; including proposals to get rid of lifetime or “permanent” alimony.

A recent Bloomberg article tells the story of a New Jersey man who has been jailed at least eight times over the past two years for contempt of court. In these instances, he missed alimony payments because he couldn’t afford them.

At the time of his divorce, he was making around $1 million per year. Based on that figure, his wife was awarded lifetime alimony of about $78,000 per year. But when the economy took a downturn, the man lost his job and has been out of work for much of the last several years. Nonetheless, his alimony obligations continue.

To be sure, there are women who pay alimony who also find themselves in this situation. That’s why many calling for alimony reform are quick to note that this is a genderless issue.

There are currently two alimony bills before state lawmakers; one of which seeks to end permanent alimony awards. The bill would keep other kinds of spousal support in place; including rehabilitative, reimbursement and limited-duration.

The second bill being considered does not seek to end permanent alimony. Rather, it would allow alimony awards to be modified based on changes to a payer’s financial circumstances. These could include changes such as unemployment or disability.

Not everyone agrees on which changes need to be made. What does seem clear, however, is that New Jersey’s alimony laws are in need of reform. It will be interesting to see how lawmakers address this issue.

Source: Bloomberg, “Jail Becomes Home for Husband Stuck With Lifetime Alimony,” Sophia Pearson, Aug. 26, 2013


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