Every so often, the issue of alimony reform in New Jersey becomes a cause celebre. Stories about groups demanding alimony reform appear in local papers and local/state legislators push for reforms such as the end of permanent alimony. Recently, such a bill has been kicking around in the State Senate. But the fact remains that New Jersey alimony law hasn’t been significantly changed in more than thirty-five years.
Whenever there is uncertainty regarding the future of a law, it makes planning settlement negotiation strategy more difficult. For example, what if I advise a client to make a major concession in return for a longer term of alimony—-and then a law is later passed that retroactively bans permanent alimony? How much consideration should be given to that possibility? Because although trends exist and should be considered, they don’t always mean that public sentiment can’t change.
Alimony and Gender Issues
Many people still tend to think of alimony in terms of gender. And while it’s true that women have, historically been the greater recipients of alimony; it’s also true that New Jersey’s alimony statute is gender neutral. I have seen plenty of cases where women are paying alimony to their husbands. As financial equality between the sexes (hopefully) increases, women paying alimony to their ex-husband’s should become increasingly common. Thus, one strong argument for the reform of alimony is that there is increased gender equality—and thus the need for alimony is diminished.
At the same time, how should a spouse who gave up pursuing a career (with the encouragement at the time of their husband or wife) for a decade or more be expected to simply “get some training and go find a job?” Is that always realistic? Wouldn’t banning permanent alimony outright be too harsh and paint too broad of a stroke? I’ve seen several cases where I don’t think it’s feasible for the non-working spouse to ever catch up. Although courts are overburdened, I personally tend to favor laws that provide the ability to address the unique factors inherent in each case. Broad line rules, such as banning all permanent alimony, may lead to an unfair application when applied to an entire state of divorcees.
The Future of Alimony in New Jersey
Although the future is uncertain, there does appear to be a growing movement for alimony reform. Such reform might not come this year or next, but sometime in the not-so-distant future a law will likely be passed that will address the public sentiment and the desire for reform. This is not dissimilar to the legalization of gay marriage in the state. The legalization of gay marriage may not occur this year or next, but I would be surprised if it’s not passed within the next decade. The law often moves slower than public sentiment, but it does (in most instances) eventually catch up.
The tough thing for litigants and attorneys such as myself, is trying to mitigate risk when facing an unknown future. But of course, that has always been a part of being a lawyer.
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If you’re considering a New Jersey divorce or Family Law action contact me to discuss your options. You can schedule an initial consultation by calling my office at 908-237-3096 or by scheduling your own divorce consultation online by clicking here.