Alimony is where one spouse makes regular periodic payments to the other after the divorce is finalized.
Generally, New Jersey courts have the authority to decide if alimony is appropriate, and if so, the amount and duration of alimony payments by one spouse. The New Jersey alimony statute mandates fourteen factors to be considered by the court when making such determinations.
Only about 1% of all divorce cases filed in New Jersey, however, go to trial.
The vast majority is settled out of court by agreement between the spouses. Regardless, such agreements (called Marital Settlement Agreements) generally still need to include properly drafted alimony provisions that conform to New Jersey law.
An experienced family lawyer would be able to advise you how the alimony law applies to your situation and effectively negotiate with your spouse’s lawyer to obtain the best result for you.
In the meantime, this post gives you general answers to the most often asked alimony questions when divorces settled out of court.
How do you know if you’ll have to pay alimony?
Generally, you could be obligated to pay alimony if your spouse was financially dependent on your earnings during the marriage.
For instance, suppose the marriage enabled your spouse to forgo opportunities to earn what he or she otherwise could have earned had it not been for the marriage.
A common example is where the wife was able to remain at home or work part-time to care for the children while the husband supported the marital expenses with his income.
If, however you and your spouse have similar educational levels and earning capacities, your alimony obligation could be significantly reduced or eliminated.
How much alimony will you have to pay?
Generally, you would first look at the current incomes for you and your spouse.
If one or both of you is unemployed or earning significantly below income potential, income could be “imputed” to either or both of you. This is where an annual income is used based on the amount you or your spouse could reasonably earn in the job market based on educational level, skills, training, and the need to care for the children, for instance.
Assume as an example the wife stayed home during the marriage to care for the children and does not presently work outside the home. She has a master’s degree and the children are now in high school and no longer need her home full-time.
Under these circumstances, we might look to New Jersey Department of Labor statistics, for example, to determine the annual income the wife is reasonably able to earn and use that figure to calculate the husband’s potential alimony obligation after the divorce.
To determine the approximate figure for alimony, many family law attorneys will calculate 33% of the difference between you and your spouse’s current annual incomes (or imputed incomes if appropriate).
For example, suppose the husband earns $100,000 per year and $40,000 per year is imputed to the wife. The difference of $60,000 would be multiplied by 33% to get a figure in the range of $19,800 gross per year, or $1,650 per month (subject to tax to the wife and tax deduction to the husband under the current federal tax law).
Please note this is an oversimplified example for illustrative purposes. The outcome can vary significantly based on the facts of each case.
For how long will you have to pay alimony?
The New Jersey alimony statute gives each spouse the right to maintain a standard of living after the divorce reasonably comparable to that during the marriage.
Generally, if you were married for less than 20 years, your alimony obligation cannot exceed the number of years you were married unless there are “exceptional circumstances” (defined in the alimony statute).
The number of years you were married is generally calculated from the date you were married until the date the complaint for divorce was filed with the court.
For example, if you were married in June 2000 and the Complaint for divorce was filed with the court in June 2018, the length of your marriage would be 18 years.
An experienced divorce and family lawyer would be able to help you determine the appropriate alimony duration by evaluating the relevant factors under New Jersey law, including the length of the marriage and ages of the children.
Generally, the duration of alimony could be longer, for instance, where the children are still very young and require more parental care.
If, however, if you were married for more than 20 years, your alimony obligation would likely be “open-durational” under the New Jersey alimony statute.
This means there is no specified end date for alimony. Once again, a skilled and experienced family lawyer would be able to effectively negotiate on your behalf to protect your interests.
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