Is Marriage Length Relevant for Alimony Responsibilities?
The Duration of Alimony Is Influenced by the Length of the Marriage as Well as the Financial Roles and Arrangements Made While Married
When people stay married for 10, 20, or 30 years, they establish a pattern of shared financial behaviors and expectations. They set out the roles of each partner in the marriage, whether one stays home and the other works or both work part or full-time. They share childrearing responsibilities, or one takes on the lion’s share of domestic duties. And the longer the marriage exists, the more the spouses are entrenched in a lifestyle. Thus, New Jersey law looks to the length of the union as one influential factor among others in determining the type, amount, and duration of an alimony award when there is a significant income disparity between the parties.
That disparity may be due to the parties’ agreement while married that one spouse caretakes the children and household responsibilities while the other works to support the family. This consideration is especially significant when one spouse earns a high salary and sustains the family while the children grow and reach adulthood. It also may arise from the parties’ different skills or educational levels. In any event, the spouse needing support to maintain the marital lifestyle may receive alimony for the long term, depending on the marriage length and other factors.
Alimony and Equitable Property Division Issues in Long-Term Marriages in NJ
Family courts often order alimony for marriages 20 years or longer, not including an alimony termination date. The spousal support ends when the supported party dies, remarries, or cohabitates. Marriage length also configures equitable property divisions in divorce. Since a judge is not limited to a 50-50 split, they can take into consideration a fair split that gives a long-time supported spouse more assets to live on or generates income, primarily when they devoted their efforts to childrearing or supporting their spouse’s career at the expense of their own.
Long-Term Marriage After the New Jersey Alimony Reform Act of 2014
In 2014, the New Jersey legislature introduced the Alimony Reform Act, which eliminated the term “permanent alimony” in exchange for “durational alimony” in reference to the length of a marriage. The formula for alimony termination dates includes half the number of months of the marriage for marriages lasting five years or less, 60% of the number of months of the marriage for marriages of five to ten years, 70% for 10 to 15 years, and 80% for 15 to 20-year marriages. After that, the alimony term is unlimited. Payments end when the payor reaches full retirement age, a court terminates or suspends alimony, or the payee receives support by cohabitation.
However, a court must consider all factors enumerated in N.J.S.A. 2A:14-23(b) to award alimony in the first place. The length of the marriage is only one factor, according to the Supreme Court in Elizabeth Gnall vs. James Gnall. There, the trial court determined that a 15-year marriage was not long enough to warrant permanent alimony, so it awarded a limited duration alimony to the wife, who gave up her career to care for the three children of the marriage while the husband earned his one million dollar a year salary.
Reassessing Statutory Factors and the Duration of Spousal Support
The appellate court reversed the decision after the wife appealed the decision of $18,000.00 a month of support for 11 years. The court ruled that the trial court erred by assuming 15 years was not long enough to warrant a permanent support order. The Supreme Court, however, determined both courts erroneously based their decisions on the number of marriage years exclusive of the other statutory factors. They affirmed that a court must consider all statutory factors and make specific findings regarding each applicable element.
Exploring the Different Alimony Types Determined by Marriage Length in New Jersey
The court outlined the four types of alimony in New Jersey: permanent, limited duration, rehabilitative, and reimbursement. Permanent alimony is where the court starts its consideration. After stating the reasons against permanent alimony and considering the means of both parties, the court can consider the others. Permanent alimony attempts to place the supported spouse in the same lifestyle they enjoyed during the marriage.
Limited duration alimony supplies the supported spouse’s needs for a specific time, typically for a short-term marriage. Often, the marriage length plays a role in distinguishing permanent and limited-duration alimony when all other factors are equal. Rehabilitative alimony supports a spouse while they become ready to reenter the workforce. They may be acquiring education or training to become employable. And the last is for reimbursement to a spouse who placed their own career on hold or took a lesser-paying job to put the other through school for a professional license to benefit the marriage.
The Role of Circumstances and Judicial Discretion in Alimony Matters
Thus, alimony considerations depend primarily on the circumstances of the party. While there are laws and rules, the Supreme Court has clarified that there is no bright line rule about marriage length in determining the type of support. It is not a formula so much as a weighing of factors and a process of elimination to fit each marital situation. These distinctions are important for divorced or divorcing clients and their attorneys, who argue for or against alimony awards.
The legal distinctions are unclear to the average layperson, so a family law attorney is essential to your alimony issue. An attorney updated on the latest laws understands that they need the entire picture of the marital lifestyle to determine if alimony is appropriate and, if so, for how long. They will consider the length of the marriage or civil union, the parties’ ages, physical and mental health, earning capacity, property distribution, parental responsibilities, investment income availability, and tax implications of alimony.
So, for example, a spouse who stayed home during a 15-year marriage due to mental and physical illness may get a permanent award when they cannot reenter the employment market due to chronic illness. But that depends on the supported spouse’s assets from the divorce, disability payments, and other sources of income. It also depends on the payor spouse’s ability to pay support. In essence, it is not a one-size-fits-all determination, and each case will hinge on factors unique to the marital circumstances.
Prepare Your Alimony Case with the Help of Experienced NJ Family Lawyers Serving Wyckoff, Woodland Park, Nutley, Ridgewood, and Northern New Jersey
When you consult with an attorney at The Montanari Law Group and relay the facts of your marital lifestyle, we will see which facts slot into the criteria for alimony. Our divorce lawyers will consider the factors in awarding alimony to advise you on what to expect or prepare to contest or support alimony awards. Consult with a qualified family attorney at our Little Falls office today when alimony is an issue in your divorce in Clifton, Wyckoff, Totowa, Woodland Park, Wayne, Kearny, Montclair, and throughout Passaic, Bergen, and Essex Counties and the greater Northern New Jersey area. We can get started with a free consultation and walk you through the details and hurdles ahead. Don’t hesitate to contact us at (973) 233-4396 to set up an initial consultation with our seasoned team of attorneys.