In 2014, New Jersey passed the Alimony Reform Act that introduced a number of changes to the state’s alimony laws. One of those changes was replacing “permanent alimony” with “open durational alimony” and clarifying when this kind of long-term alimony can be awarded in a New Jersey divorce.
In actuality, permanent alimony was a misnomer since it was never really permanent in the commonly understood meaning of the word. Permanent alimony was never meant to be unending or unchangeable; it could end with the remarriage of the recipient or upon the death of either ex-spouse. Under certain circumstances, permanent alimony could also be modified.
The Alimony Reform Act applies to all alimony agreements signed after the date the bill was enacted — September 10, 2014. Alimony agreements made prior to the new legislation were not affected.
But the name was not the only thing that changed. There were also changes to when open durational alimony can be awarded and how long alimony payments can continue:
Marriages lasting less than 20 years. For marriages lasting less than 20 years, alimony can only be sought for the same number of years the marriage lasted. This is known as “limited duration alimony” which can be modified based on changed circumstances such as remarriage or retirement.
Marriages lasting more than 20 years. If a marriage lasted more than 20 years, a financially dependent spouse is eligible for open durational alimony, which lasts until the death of either spouse, the remarriage of the dependent spouse, or when the paying spouse reaches full retirement age. Open durational alimony may be modified if there are substantial changes in circumstances for either spouse, which can result in an increase or decrease in alimony obligations depending on those circumstances.
New Jersey courts will consider modifying alimony under the following circumstances:
- Increase in the cost of living
- Unemployment or reduction in income for either party
- Increase or decrease in income for either party
- Long-term illness or disability suffered by either party
- An inheritance received by the party receiving alimony
- The loss of a home or apartment by the party receiving alimony
- Co-habitation with another person by the party receiving alimony
The court will look carefully at the needs of the dependent spouse and their ability to meet their own needs as well as the ability of the person paying alimony to meet their obligation. The person making the modification request must prove changed circumstances, and those circumstances cannot be temporary or small.
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