Alimony: Can I Get it? Must I Pay it?

  • April 20, 2017

    Alimony is, by far, the thorniest issue in a divorce.  The first question I get in an initial consult is usually either: “Will I get alimony?”  or “Will I have to pay alimony?” depending on which spouse I am seeing.  The answer is always the same, however, “It depends.”

    The purpose of alimony is not to reward or punish, although it may seem so.  The purpose is to allow the dependent spouse to continue to pay his or her reasonable and necessary expenses that he or she may not be able to pay without assistance.  Often, in a marriage, one spouse is the primary breadwinner and the other takes on more of the child-related duties, sometimes giving up a more lucrative career to do so.  Upon divorce, it may not be possible for that spouse to re-capture lost opportunity and income – at least not right away.

    In a long-term marriage (20+ years), alimony is almost always awarded if there is a significant disparity in incomes. And that alimony is likely to be “open duration” in nature — that is, without a specific end date — unless the parties agree otherwise.  In a shorter marriage, the presumption is that alimony will last no longer than the length of the marriage.  Case law provides for modification of the amount of alimony if there is a significant change in the financial circumstances of either party, if the dependent spouse co-habits in a marriage-like relationship or if the payor spouse retires at age 67 or beyond.

    Fault has no bearing on whether a spouse receives alimony, unless the fault is economic (think, Bernie Madoff) or is so egregious that it affects life or death (think, hit-man).

    There are no alimony guidelines in NJ.  Each party prepares a budget reflecting the family’s monthly expenses during the marriage and their projected expenses upon separation.  The court (or a mediator, if you are in mediation) applies the income of the dependent spouse against his or her reasonable expenses and then looks to the other spouse to make up any shortfall.  In practice, this can be a complicated exercise as there is no clear outcome.

    The statute contain a list of factors that the court considers in awarding alimony.  These include: length of marriage, need and ability of parties to pay, standard of living during marriage, parties’ ages and health, time spent out of the workplace, educational and vocational skills.  Income can be imputed to under-employed spouses, In mediated or negotiated cases, parties often start alimony at one level and agree to reduce it when the dependent spouse has had sufficient time and experience to earn a higher income.

    Because there are no bright-line rules about the amount of alimony, it is advisable to consult with an experienced family law attorney who can review the specifics of your situation and provide the appropriate advice.

    For more information, contact Risa A. Kleiner, Esq. at 609.951.2222 or by email at Risa@rkleinerlaw.com.

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