Figuring out finances is often at the top of priority list during a divorce. One of the most contested pieces is alimony (also known as spousal support), where the court determines an amount one spouse must provide to the other on a monthly basis. There are many factors that go into determining the final number and the length of time payments are made, all of which are ultimately left up to the judge to decide upon.
Alimony can often feel like a punishment for those who have to pay it, but it’s meant to allow both spouses to live as close as possible to the level they were used to before the divorce. It’s based on need and ability to pay, and both men and women are eligible to receive alimony. That said, it can be difficult for both sides to agree on an amount or duration when emotions and expectations are involved.
Thankfully New Jersey laws help make it easier to arrive at a final arrangement that is fair to you both.
Calculating Alimony in New Jersey
New Jersey alimony laws provide a series of factors for the court to determine if alimony should be awarded in a divorce, for how long it should be awarded, and how much should be awarded. There’s no specific formula, with the court instead providing 14 specific pieces of criteria in the alimony law N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b) that must be taken into consideration when determining alimony amounts, such as the length of the marriage and how much difference there is between earnings.
Alimony cannot be determined until the court hears the answers to the criteria and both sides of the discussion, making it crucial to have an experienced lawyer advocating on your behalf during the process. There are situations that arise where the timeline of how long alimony must be paid for can change, but the definition of these “life-changing” events is often open to interpretation. Whether it involves cohabitation or marriage, retirement, or disability, the courts must make the final determination whether alimony can be stopped or must continue.
Changing or Ending Alimony in New Jersey
Let’s focus a little more on life-changing events, specifically living together (or cohabitation). We know the Hollywood version of cohabitation and alimony: two people are sneaking around and staying together several nights a week and they don’t officially own property together, with mail going to two different addresses. As a result, the person receiving alimony can keep receiving alimony, but Hollywood and real life are very different.
In New Jersey cohabitation can be determined by the courts even if the two people are trying to show on paper they’re not living together. Just because mail goes to two separate addresses doesn’t necessarily mean the people are living separate lives. Many times a private investigator can help prove that the people are living together, even if they are keeping two different residences.
New Jersey alimony laws are more a set of guidelines that help the court determine the amount and length of time alimony is to be paid, if at all. Your attorney can help guide you towards what may be expected in court and advocate on your behalf, but the final decision resides with the court in litigated cases. To avoid the cost and stress of protracted litigation, you may choose to settle the issue of alimony amicably.
When Alimony is Awarded
Many times all people want to know is if alimony is going to be awarded. It can be challenging to determine eligibility, but these considerations have the biggest impact on the final decision:
- Ability of the one spouse to pay
- The need of the receiving spouse
- Total income
- Former standard of living
- Total length of marriage
- What each spouse contributed to the marriage
- How parenting duties were and will be split
As we sum up the NJ alimony laws it’s important to understand what it can mean for you, no matter which side of the divorce you sit. If you’re married for a significant period of time, you may be required to pay alimony until you are lawfully able to retire. That means that if you retire at the legal retirement age, you may be able to stop paying alimony if the courts rule in your favor. However, if you retire before the legal retirement age simply to avoid alimony, it is less likely you will be able to stop paying alimony.
If you’re married for a shorter time period, you may still receive alimony, but it’s likely to be for a much shorter time period. The courts will determine how long you will need to receive alimony, whether you need it simply to help you get back on your feet, and how much is appropriate. Make sure you work with an attorney that understands New Jersey alimony laws and can explain the various options and possibilities to you.
Many times your best bet is to work with an experienced attorney to resolve these matters amicably through negotiation, “four-way” settlement conferences, mediation, or even Collaborative Practice rather than subject yourself and your family to caustic litigation and invasive discovery. You can often come to an agreement this way, saving yourself and your family a lot of stress and legal fees.
If you’re in need of an attorney that can help you understand how alimony is likely to impact your divorce and finances, contact the attorneys at Keith Family Law. Our experienced attorneys can help you understand the guidelines, figure out how they apply to you and will walk you through the possibilities before you enter the courtroom.