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Overhaul ends permanent alimony and makes it easier to reduce payments

In September of last year, New Jersey passed sweeping alimony reform legislation that is expected to have a big impact on family law cases in the state, according to The Record. The legislation brings a number of changes to spousal support in New Jersey, most importantly an end to permanent or lifetime alimony in most cases. The legislation has proven controversial, both for those who supported reform and those who were against it.

What has changed?

Under the new law, alimony payments will be limited to the length of the marriage. A court can only order a spouse to pay alimony for a maximum of 11 years, for example, if the marriage itself lasted 11 years. The law also stipulates that alimony payments end once the payer reaches retirement. However, alimony payments may continue beyond these limits in “exceptional circumstances,” such as when the payee becomes permanently injured during the marriage and is unable to return to the workforce.

The law also makes it easier for payer’s to reduce or terminate alimony in other circumstances. For example, according to NJ Advance Media, if the payee moves in with a new partner then in most cases his or her alimony payments will be terminated. Likewise, people paying alimony who have lost their job can apply to have payments reduced or terminated within 90 days.

Changes controversial

While many agreed that New Jersey’s old alimony laws were outdated, not everybody is happy with the changes. Those who were advocating for reform say the new law does not go far enough. For example, the changes will only apply to divorces filed after the law took effect and not retroactively. They also were hoping for clearer guidelines for how alimony amounts were calculated.

Other critics say that the law, while well-meaning, could have unintended consequences. For example, they say that the stipulation that alimony ends when the payee moves in with a new partner is too strict, especially since moving in with a new partner does not necessarily constitute a change in financial circumstances. Likewise, the rule that alimony ends when the payer reaches retirement-a rule that also applies to divorces filed prior to the law’s passage-could hurt people who divorce later in life.

Family law representation

New Jersey’s alimony reform is a significant step in how courts deal with spousal support and reflects changes that have been occurring across the country. The overhaul also show that when it comes to family law matters, people are still well advised to rely on a professional family law attorney in order to address their specific concerns. Alimony and other family legal issues remain complicated and difficult to understand for somebody without legal experience, but they can have a big impact on many people’s emotional and financial lives. As such, relying on expert advice can help ensure that these serious issues are dealt with in a compassionate and expert manner.

Overhaul ends permanent alimony and makes it easier to reduce payments

In September of last year, New Jersey passed sweeping alimony reform legislation that is expected to have a big impact on family law cases in the state, according to The Record. The legislation brings a number of changes to spousal support in New Jersey, most importantly an end to permanent or lifetime alimony in most cases. The legislation has proven controversial, both for those who supported reform and those who were against it.

What has changed?

Under the new law, alimony payments will be limited to the length of the marriage. A court can only order a spouse to pay alimony for a maximum of 11 years, for example, if the marriage itself lasted 11 years. The law also stipulates that alimony payments end once the payer reaches retirement. However, alimony payments may continue beyond these limits in “exceptional circumstances,” such as when the payee becomes permanently injured during the marriage and is unable to return to the workforce.

The law also makes it easier for payer’s to reduce or terminate alimony in other circumstances. For example, according to NJ Advance Media, if the payee moves in with a new partner then in most cases his or her alimony payments will be terminated. Likewise, people paying alimony who have lost their job can apply to have payments reduced or terminated within 90 days.

Changes controversial

While many agreed that New Jersey’s old alimony laws were outdated, not everybody is happy with the changes. Those who were advocating for reform say the new law does not go far enough. For example, the changes will only apply to divorces filed after the law took effect and not retroactively. They also were hoping for clearer guidelines for how alimony amounts were calculated.

Other critics say that the law, while well-meaning, could have unintended consequences. For example, they say that the stipulation that alimony ends when the payee moves in with a new partner is too strict, especially since moving in with a new partner does not necessarily constitute a change in financial circumstances. Likewise, the rule that alimony ends when the payer reaches retirement-a rule that also applies to divorces filed prior to the law’s passage-could hurt people who divorce later in life.

Family law representation

New Jersey’s alimony reform is a significant step in how courts deal with spousal support and reflects changes that have been occurring across the country. The overhaul also show that when it comes to family law matters, people are still well advised to rely on a professional family law attorney in order to address their specific concerns. Alimony and other family legal issues remain complicated and difficult to understand for somebody without legal experience, but they can have a big impact on many people’s emotional and financial lives. As such, relying on expert advice can help ensure that these serious issues are dealt with in a compassionate and expert manner.

Careful estate planning may help people prevent inheritance disputes between their new spouses and their children from prior marriages upon their passing.

It is fairly common for people in Pennsylvania to remarry after a divorce, and often, one or both spouses may have children from a previous relationship. While these blended families offer people new opportunities to love and live, they can pose some challenging estate planning and inheritance issues. Therefore, having a carefully thought out estate plan that takes into account their new spouses’ needs, as well as those of their children’s, may help people prevent family disputes following their deaths.

Review beneficiary designations

The way people list their beneficiaries on retirement accounts, life insurance policies and other such accounts will affect how these benefits are disbursed upon their deaths. For example, it is common for people to update their beneficiary designations to their new spouses upon getting remarried. However, if they name only their new spouses, then they are able to specify their own new beneficiaries. This means that the original policy holders’ children may be bypassed altogether.

As such, people should make their intentions clear when designating their beneficiaries. They may name who the accounts should pass to after their spouses’ deaths or indicate specific percentages that each of their beneficiaries should receive.

Designate specific property separately

People often have family heirlooms or cherished personal property that they intend to pass on to certain children. Without a carefully designed plan, however, AARP points out that their new spouses may be entitled to claim up to half of the assets in people’s wills. Thus, it may be helpful if people leave a separate list of this property, sometimes referred to as a personal property memorandum. This list should describe each item to be gifted in detail and provide specific instructions as to who should receive each item upon their passing.

Consider inheritance timing

For couples who have not previously been married, inheritance timing is somewhat easy. People often leave their assets to their spouses, and their estates are passed on to their children after their spouses pass away. When it comes to second or subsequent marriages, however, withholding distributions of their children’s inheritances until after the death of their new spouses may create hostility and impatience. Therefore, people may consider establishing trusts or outright transfers that occur at the time of their deaths in order to accommodate the needs of both their surviving spouses and their children.

Working with an attorney

In the ideal situation, people in Pennsylvania could rely on their spouses and their children to work out inheritances to all their benefit after they pass away. However, even in long-term second marriages, new spouses and children from prior marriages may have drastically different ideas of what they are entitled to. As such, it will benefit people who have remarried or who are planning to get remarried to seek legal guidance. An attorney can explain their rights, including establishing wills and trusts, and help them set up a plan that provides for the needs of both their current spouses and their children from prior marriages.

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Careful estate planning may help people prevent inheritance disputes between their new spouses and their children from prior marriages upon their passing.

It is fairly common for people in Pennsylvania to remarry after a divorce, and often, one or both spouses may have children from a previous relationship. While these blended families offer people new opportunities to love and live, they can pose some challenging estate planning and inheritance issues. Therefore, having a carefully thought out estate plan that takes into account their new spouses’ needs, as well as those of their children’s, may help people prevent family disputes following their deaths.

Review beneficiary designations

The way people list their beneficiaries on retirement accounts, life insurance policies and other such accounts will affect how these benefits are disbursed upon their deaths. For example, it is common for people to update their beneficiary designations to their new spouses upon getting remarried. However, if they name only their new spouses, then they are able to specify their own new beneficiaries. This means that the original policy holders’ children may be bypassed altogether.

As such, people should make their intentions clear when designating their beneficiaries. They may name who the accounts should pass to after their spouses’ deaths or indicate specific percentages that each of their beneficiaries should receive.

Designate specific property separately

People often have family heirlooms or cherished personal property that they intend to pass on to certain children. Without a carefully designed plan, however, AARP points out that their new spouses may be entitled to claim up to half of the assets in people’s wills. Thus, it may be helpful if people leave a separate list of this property, sometimes referred to as a personal property memorandum. This list should describe each item to be gifted in detail and provide specific instructions as to who should receive each item upon their passing.

Consider inheritance timing

For couples who have not previously been married, inheritance timing is somewhat easy. People often leave their assets to their spouses, and their estates are passed on to their children after their spouses pass away. When it comes to second or subsequent marriages, however, withholding distributions of their children’s inheritances until after the death of their new spouses may create hostility and impatience. Therefore, people may consider establishing trusts or outright transfers that occur at the time of their deaths in order to accommodate the needs of both their surviving spouses and their children.

Working with an attorney

In the ideal situation, people in Pennsylvania could rely on their spouses and their children to work out inheritances to all their benefit after they pass away. However, even in long-term second marriages, new spouses and children from prior marriages may have drastically different ideas of what they are entitled to. As such, it will benefit people who have remarried or who are planning to get remarried to seek legal guidance. An attorney can explain their rights, including establishing wills and trusts, and help them set up a plan that provides for the needs of both their current spouses and their children from prior marriages.

Social Security retirement benefits are payable based on an individual’s prior earning’s history. A party in divorce may be entitled to collect social security benefits based on the earnings history of their spouse instead of their own. For this to be an option, your spouse must already be at least 62 years old and receiving their social security benefits. Additionally, you must have been married to your spouse for at least ten years and be at least 62 years old. There is an exception to the age requirement if your spouse is deceased in which case you can start collecting at 60 years old or 50 years old if you are disabled. You cannot be remarried at the time you are electing to receive a spouse or ex-spouse’s benefits however, remarriage is permissible if it occurs after age 60 or age 50 if disabled.

Finally, your social security benefits based on your earnings history must be less than your spouse’s benefits. You can only elect to receive one social security benefit and should opt for whichever is higher. By electing to receive benefits under a spouse’s earnings history you do not diminish the benefit your spouse is entitled to receive themselves. You spouse will continue to receive the full amount of his or her benefit. You are entitled to receive 50% of the benefit your spouse is receiving. If, however, your spouse pre-deceases you, you are then entitled to receive 100% of your spouse’s benefits. Further, any children under 18 at the time of your spouse’s death would be entitled to certain benefits as well.

A jointly owned property is frequently addressed in family law actions. It may be defined as a marital asset hence subjecting it to equitable distribution. Financial responsibility for the property may also be a factor in the context of a support action. If only one party is making payments on a marital residence while a divorce is pending, they may be able to seek a credit for payments made. This may be the case if both parties are residing in the home or if the party not contributing to the mortgage is residing in the home. Mortgage payments may also be considered in the course of establishing a support award. Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1910.16-6 covers adjustment to basic support awards and allocation of additional expenses. Under sub-section (e) mortgage payments, real estate taxes, and homeowners’ insurance may need to be considered. Second mortgages, home equity loans and other obligations secured by the marital residence may be considered but are within the discretion of the court and addressed on a case-by-case basis.

The expense to maintain the marital residence can be considered if the total expense exceeds 25% of the obligee’s (party receiving support) or obligor’s (party paying support) income. If the obligee is in the marital residence and paying the mortgage, the court would look to see if the mortgage payment exceeds 25% of the obligee’s income after considering the basic support award. If the mortgage is still more than 25% the court can direct the obligor to assume up to 50% of the excess resulting in an increased support award. Obligors can also receive assistance with the mortgage if they are the party in the marital residence or responsible for the payments. The basic support award is subtracted from the obligor’s net income first. If the mortgage payment is more than 25% of the remaining net income available to the obligor, the court may make a downward deviation in the basic support award. The mortgage deviation is only applicable prior to final equitable distribution in the divorce matter. Additionally, the courts are more likely to allow for a mortgage deviation in cases where the home is ultimately going to be sold as opposed to a case where one party intends to keep the residence post-divorce.

Former military members may be eligible to receive a number of different veterans benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Possible benefits include disability compensation, pension benefits, life insurance, educational benefits and more. Veterans benefits cannot be divided as an asset in a divorce case. This is due to the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA). The Pennsylvania Divorce Code confirms this rule. Under 23 Pa. Section 3501(a), discussing the definitions for marital benefits, veterans’ benefits exempt from attachment, levy or seizure are defined as non-marital. Additionally, the veteran gets to decide how to use educational benefits and who to designate as beneficiary for their life insurance.

Veterans benefits can be classified as income for purposes of determining a child support award; specifically, disability payments. The disability payments are intended to compensate the veteran for lost earnings and to support their family. There are restrictions as to when veterans’ benefits can be garnished. In the event the benefits cannot be garnished, that does not mean that the veteran is not still responsible for the support payments as determined by the guidelines.

Copies of the current support order and records of any arrears owed and former payment history will need to be supplied to the VA to review as evidence when making its determination on whether garnishment is appropriate and a reasonable amount to be garnished.

The receipt of an inheritance may impact your divorce or support case. Section 3501 of the Pennsylvania Divorce Code defines what will be considered marital property, and up for division, versus what will be considered non-marital property. Marital property includes all property acquired by either party from the date of marriage through the date of separation. There is a presumption all property acquired during the marriage is marital regardless of how title is held (e.g. individually vs. jointly). However, property received as a gift, bequest, devise or descent is non-marital per 23 Pa. C.S. 3501(a). Accordingly, an inheritance that is received during the marriage can still be claimed as non-marital property. As a practical tip, parties should avoid commingling inheritance funds with other marital funds. Inheritance funds may still need to be disclosed since the separate assets of the party are a factor for equitable distribution under 23 Pa. C.S. 3502.

Money received by way of an inheritance should not to be considered income for a support matter. This was established in the case of Humphreys v. DeRoss, 790 A.2d 281 (Pa. 2002) wherein the court noted that the term “inheritance” was not expressly listed in the statutory definition of “income” under 23 Pa. C.S. 4302 and so was not intended to be included. However, Humphreys also established that receipt of an inheritance may still be a factor under Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1910.16-5. Rule 1910.16-5 states factors for the court to consider for deviation from a guideline support obligation. One of the factors the court may consider is the assets and liabilities of the parties. In E.R.L. v. C.K.L., 2015 PA Super 220, the court upheld an upward deviation of a child support award where father had just received a $600,000 inheritance. The base support award was appropriately calculated in that case without the inclusion of the inheritance money.