Alimony is one of the most contentious issues during divorce. Typically, one spouse feels entitled to alimony, and the other does not want to pay. Gender does not factor in who is entitled to or must pay alimony.
Also called “spousal support” or “spousal maintenance,” alimony is a specified sum of money one spouse pays the other during or after the divorce. It can help couples maintain their standard of living and transition to financial independence.
Alimony is designed to bridge the financial gap between former spouses and to prevent one spouse from suffering more financial hardship than the other, particularly if one spouse has a significantly higher income or earning ability. A common instance is when one spouse stays home with the children and the other works; the at-home parent would likely require financial support until they can support themselves.
What Are the Different Types of Alimony?
Alimony is not ordered in all divorces. If both spouses are employed and have similar incomes, the court is not likely to decide there is a need for alimony. In New Jersey, there are several kinds of alimony the court can consider:
- Temporary alimony: Temporary alimony, or “pendente lite” alimony, is awarded while the divorce is pending. It is the only type of alimony available during the divorce process. In some cases, the spouses agree that one will support the other during the divorce, or the court can award temporary support based on the Family Part Case Information Statement, which details the couple’s financial standing and other circumstances that may affect one spouse’s financial hardship. The court may also require one spouse to pay for the other’s attorney costs.
- Open durational alimony: Open durational alimony is typically awarded for spouses in marriages lasting more than 20 years or deemed indefinite and may continue until one party dies, remarries, or lives with a new partner.
- Limited duration alimony: Limited duration alimony is support awarded for a specific period of time, from months to years, and is based on the length of a marriage lasting less than 20 years. The length of limited duration alimony cannot exceed the length of the marriage.
- Rehabilitative alimony: Rehabilitative alimony is awarded for a specific time to help one spouse until they become financially self-sufficient. It is typically awarded to support the spouse during the time needed to obtain education or training for employment.
- Reimbursement alimony: Reimbursement alimony is awarded to reimburse one spouse for financially supporting the other spouse for education or training during the marriage, such as working to help the spouse pay for medical school or obtain a law degree.
How Is Alimony Calculated?
There is no set formula for calculating the amount of alimony to be paid, as each divorce has its circumstances. The courts consider several factors when calculating the need and amount of alimony, such as:
- One spouse’s need for financial support to maintain the standard of living.
- The ability of the other spouse to pay alimony while also maintaining the standard of living.
- The length of the marriage or civil union.
- The standard of living during the marriage and whether either or both parties require an increase in living expenses to achieve a comparable standard of living.
- Each spouse’s income and earnings potential.
- The age of both spouses and potential ability to earn income.
- Each spouse’s physical and mental health and effects on their ability to achieve employment or reach retirement.
- Cost of additional health expenses due to mental or physical disabilities.
- Amount of jointly held marital assets, including additional income from real estate (rent), investments, or businesses.
- Each spouse’s financial and time contribution to the marital home, child-raising, and daily living expenses.
- Earning capacity and employability of each spouse.
- Each parent’s level of responsibility for children during the marriage.
- Whether alimony will result in tax effects.
- Any other factors the court deems relevant.
The length of time alimony payments must be made depends on the type of alimony, the length of the marriage, and the circumstances of the marriage and divorce. Other than open durational alimony, all types will have a specified end date in the order.
Alimony awards end automatically when one spouse dies, remarries, or enters a civil union, except rehabilitative or reimbursement alimony.
Can Alimony Be Modified in New Jersey?
Either spouse can request modifications to alimony provided no written agreement prohibits changes. Whichever spouse makes the request is responsible for proving a change in circumstances requiring modifying the alimony order. Some instances that may qualify for a modification include the following:
- Loss of income for the paying spouse or increase in income for the receiving spouse.
- Retirement or future retirement.
- Higher cost or change in living expenses.
- Additional expenses due to a health condition or disability.
Another change in circumstances is that the spouse receiving alimony begins cohabiting with a new partner. Many believe they are entitled to alimony as long as they remain unmarried. In New Jersey, however, unmarried cohabitation with a new partner may be grounds to suspend or terminate alimony.
Legally, cohabitation is a “mutually supportive relationship that reflects the duties and privileges associated with marriage or a civil union.” It should be noted that courts can still find cohabitation exists, even when the partners do not live in the same household. To determine whether cohabitation exists, courts consider the following:
- Whether the couple lives together.
- Whether the couple shares household and living expenses.
- Whether the couple has combined finances, such as bank accounts or credit cards.
- Whether or not they have frequent contact.
- Shared household chores.
- Length of the relationship.
- Family members and friends recognize the relationship.
- Entered an agreement whereby the new partner provides financial support for the partner receiving alimony.
If the paying spouse believes their former spouse is cohabiting with a new partner, they can challenge the alimony order for modification or termination. It is the responsibility of the requesting spouse to provide evidence of the claim, which can include:
- Photos or videos showing the couple lives together, including photos of where their cars are kept overnight.
- Public records of jointly owned property in their names, such as vehicles or real estate.
- Official change of address documentation reflecting the change of residence.
- Bank and credit card statements showing joint accounts.
- Statements regarding the couple’s relationship from family, friends, and neighbors.
- Social media posts and photos demonstrating the frequency of contact and their shared lives.
This type of information can be challenging to obtain, and many claimants hire an experienced attorney or private investigator licensed to pursue this type of documentation and evidence.
Are Unmarried Partners Entitled to Alimony in New Jersey?
Couples living together without marrying or entering into a civil partnership may be eligible for palimony, a type of support when alimony is not applicable. In New Jersey, unmarried partners are not obligated to provide financial support, even if the division of responsibilities includes one partner being financially dependent on the other. Palimony is a legal option if one partner voluntarily agrees to a contractual obligation to provide financial support to the other.
Palimony might be appropriate if one partner signed a written cohabitation or partnership agreement or a verbal agreement before January 18, 2010. Palimony claims are extremely complex and challenging to obtain, and working with an attorney is advised.
New Jersey Alimony Attorneys at Wiley Lavender Maknoor, PC Help Divorcing Spouses Obtain Financial Support
Alimony is often necessary to help one spouse become self-sufficient during or after divorce. If you are going through a divorce and believe you may benefit from alimony, our New Jersey alimony attorneys at Wiley Lavender Maknoor, PC can help. Call us at 732-494-6099 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation and learn more about your alimony options. Located in Metuchen, New Jersey, we serve clients in Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Union County, and Somerset County.