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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While many agreed that New Jersey’s old alimony laws were outdated, not everybody is happy with the changes.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.

Section 2A:34-2 of the New Jersey Divorce Statutes outline the different causes of action available for a divorce. New Jersey recognizes no-fault grounds for divorce on the basis of separation or irreconcilable differences. The parties must live separately for at least 18 consecutive months with no prospect of reconciliation to succeed on the no-fault ground for separation as governed by 2A:34-2(d). A divorce complaint cannot be filed until the 18 month period of separation has elapsed with the presumption that no reasonable prospect of reconciliation occurs after that period. The parties must have experienced irreconcilable differences for six months or more with no reasonable prospect of reconciliation to obtain a divorce on the basis of irreconcilable differences pursuant to 2A:34-2(I). In the case of an irreconcilable differences divorce or one based on fault grounds, the parties do not need to actually separate prior to commencement of the action.

New Jersey also recognizes fault grounds for divorce including adultery, desertion, extreme cruelty, voluntary addiction or habituation, institutionalization, imprisonment and deviant sexual conduct. Desertion must be willful and continued for a period of 12 months or more. Extreme cruelty can be mental or physical but must be to the extent that it makes it unreasonable to expect the parties to continue to reside together. The fault ground for voluntary addiction refers to addiction to any narcotic drug and/or habitual drunkenness for 12 months or more. Institutionalization for a mental illness must be of a period greater than 24 consecutive months. A divorce can be awarded on the basis of imprisonment for 18 months or more. If the divorce is not commenced until after the defendant’s release the parties cannot have resumed cohabitation. Finally, deviant sexual conduct is that which is voluntarily performed by the defendant against plaintiff’s will. Adultery can be established through circumstantial evidence and generally requires some corroboration. When raising a claim for adultery, the third party who participated in the adultery must be named as a co-defendant and has the right to intervene. There is generally no benefit to pursuing a fault based divorce over a no fault divorce.

All grounds for divorce require NJ residency for a period of at least one year with the exception of adultery. This is true as it relates to divorce from the bonds of matrimony, or absolute divorce, as well as divorce from bed and board, or limited divorce. In the case of a limited divorce the parties will still be legally married but are able to achieve separation financially. Just as with a divorce, the parties can enter an agreement to divide all their marital property or submit to the court for a decision on division. Alimony may also be awarded where appropriate. Health insurance may continue if covered by the other spouse and legal separation is not specified as a reason for termination. A divorce from bed and board can be converted to a divorce from the bonds of matrimony if the parties elect to go through with a full divorce. It can also be revoked such that the parties resume their marriage.

Older couples often have valuable assets, complex property and little time to change retirement plans, making fair settlements crucial in gray divorces.

The phenomenon of “gray divorce,” or divorce after age 50, has become increasingly common in the last decade. The proportion of people divorcing after 50 increased from 10 percent to 28 percent from 1990 to 2010, according to the New York Times. Today, the number of divorced people older than 50 has outstripped the number of widowed people in the same age group.

There is no denying that divorce is a complicated process at any age. However, people preparing to divorce after age 50 in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, should expect to navigate some especially challenging financial issues.

DIVIDING COMPLEX ASSETS

One issue older couples often face is the division of complex assets, according to Forbes. Older individuals have had more time to accumulate personal assets, and couples in longer-lived marriages may have built up substantial marital assets, such as homes, retirement accounts and other savings. Inheritances from parents and other relatives can complicate matters as well, as the distinction between marital and separate property can be difficult to define.

Spouses can work together to decide how assets will be divided, but usually, spouses can reach a fairer division by seeking legal guidance, since many people do not understand their rights during property division. For instance, many individuals do not realize they may be entitled to part of a spouse’s retirement accounts, including 401(k)s, pension plans or IRAs, if contributions were made to those accounts during the marriage.

Many assets can be divided by agreement or court order, but some assets cannot be distributed this way. For example, retirement plans can only be divided with a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. It is beneficial for older couples to seek legal help when they divorce, to ensure that a fair settlement is awarded and that all court orders and documents are in order. Otherwise, spouses run the risk of losing financial solvency following the separation.

PLANNING FOR RETIREMENT

Another significant issue with divorcing later in life is that both spouses are near retirement, leaving little time to rebuild savings. Typically, even people who were on track to enjoy a comfortable retirement together may not have enough saved to fund two retirements. Separate retirements can cost 30 to 50 percent more than retiring as a couple would, according to USA Today.

Couples should remember that expenses associated with everything from housing to travel to in-home assistance double after a divorce. In light of these increases, many couples ultimately must choose between three options:

  • Staying in the workforce and postponing retirement.
  • Re-entering the workforce.
  • Retiring on track, but with significantly different expectations.

Individuals facing these issues can benefit from hiring a financial advisor before the divorce is complete, so they can realistically evaluate what they will need to survive independently. The sooner spouses evaluate their financial needs, the better they will be able to communicate those needs during mediation or court proceedings.

Anyone preparing for divorce later in life should strongly consider meeting with an attorney. An attorney can advise an individual on legal rights and help him or her reach a settlement that will reduce the financial impact of the divorce.

Pennsylvania is unusual among states in that it still has both no-fault and fault divorce options on the books. The many issues regarding divorce in PA are defined in Pennsylvania Statutes Title 23 Pa.C.S.A. Domestic Relations, Part IV.

Uncontested Divorce

There are two no-fault, or uncontested, options: Mutual Consent and Irretrievable Breakdown.

Mutual Consent: In Mutual Consent Divorce, both spouses file affidavits requesting a divorce. There is a 90-day minimum waiting period, and then if they still both agree, the divorce can be finalized.

Irretrievable Breakdown: When a marriage has severely deteriorated, under the “irretrievably broken” grounds for divorce, spouses must live “separate and apart for a period of at least one year.” After separation, only one party needs to file an affidavit, indicating the date at which the separation began and that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” The affidavit must be filed in court and served to the spouse, who has 40 days to contest or to argue for economic relief. If the served spouse does not respond in time, the divorce can be finalized by only one party.

Contested Divorce

Pennsylvania Law cannot force a spouse to sign divorce papers. If a spouse contests the divorce or denies separation, then the other spouse may be forced to file a “fault” divorce. The grounds under which such a claim can be made in Pennsylvania are defined in 23 Pa.C.S. § 3301(a) and (b):

1.       Willful and malicious desertion

2.       Adultery

3.       Cruel and barbarous treatment, endangering life or health of injured and innocent spouse

4.       Bigamy

5.       Imprisonment for more than 2 years

6.       Intolerable and burdensome indignities to spouse

7.       Institutionalization in a mental institution at least 18 months prior to and

expected subsequent to filing

If your spouse will not leave the family home and thus initiate the separation, under 23 Pa.C.S. § 3502(c)  you can file for exclusive possession of the family home.

Talk to a trusted advisor who is an expert in divorce and family law to help determine what steps you need to take. We help people every day to get through this difficult process and start fresh. Call us for a consultation.