N.J. lawmakers pass bill to limit alimony payments

Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg with Sen. Nia Gill (right), one of two on the Judiciary Committee who voted against the bill.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg with Sen. Nia Gill (right), one of two on the Judiciary Committee who voted against the bill. (AP)
Posted: July 02, 2014

TRENTON - New Jersey lawmakers passed legislation Monday that would limit the duration of alimony payments, a move some advocates said would make divorce fairer.

Under the measure, alimony could not exceed the length of a marriage that lasted less than 20 years, except in certain cases. Also, alimony would terminate when the payer reaches full retirement age, which is 67 under federal law.

The bill would not be retroactive to existing divorce orders or agreements.

About 98 percent of divorce cases are settled in New Jersey, so these changes would affect only the contested cases, Jeralyn L. Lawrence, chairwoman of the New Jersey Bar Association's family law section, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday.

The Senate passed the bill after it advanced from committee Monday afternoon. It passed the Assembly last week and now heads to Gov. Christie. A spokesman for the governor did not return a request for comment.

"This bill probably won't help me, not for a while," Sheila Taylor of New Jersey Women for Alimony Reform told a Senate panel Monday. Taylor, a nurse, said she has spent $74,000 since her divorce and continued to pay alimony to her former husband.

"But it's a good beginning."

The state does not have a current formula for determining the duration of alimony. Payers have to petition the court to end alimony based on retirement or reduced income.

Under current law, courts must consider several factors in assessing awards, including need and ability to pay; duration of the marriage or union; and age and health.

Those who pushed for change said alimony could in effect be permanent.

The compromise emerged Thursday after two years of negotiations.

Interested parties, such as the New Jersey Bar Association and reform groups, struggled to reconcile two principles: that every case should be addressed on its own facts, and that divorce should have more predictability, said Amy Goldstein, a family law lawyer, who helped draft part of the bill.

Lawrence, of the bar association, said the bill provided a "blend of fairness and predictability" to "both sides of a divorce."

The legislation is more modest than a bill proposed last year that would have established a strict formula based on such factors as duration of the marriage and income.

Some said it didn't go far enough.

"A large, large portion of people affected by this are not going to receive any relief whatsoever," Stuart D. Meissner, a lawyer who pays alimony, told the committee. "We need strict guidelines."

The bill contains several exceptions to the proposed duration limits, such as degree of dependency of one spouse on the other, forgone career opportunities, and health.

Payers could also seek to modify or end alimony upon prospective retirement, or if a payee cohabits with another person. A legislative liaison for the state judiciary suggested that the Legislature adopt a "reasonableness standard" for what that time frame might be.

Nia Gill (D., Essex), one of two senators on the Judiciary Committee who voted against the bill, said it had not received proper scrutiny.

Noting that the bill was introduced late last week, she asked: "Why must we get a bill on Friday, late in the afternoon, in order to vote on something that has consequences for hundreds of thousands of people in the state of New Jersey?"

Legislators have scrambled for the last week to pass dozens of bills before the end of the fiscal year Monday, even though they technically do not recess.




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