This summer the state of New Jersey made a significant change to the state’s alimony laws. For decades, alimony in New Jersey was apparently typically granted as a matter of course in a divorce on a permanent basis, under the theory that marriage is a contract, and a spouse is entitled to alimony when the other spouse ends that contract. Over the years, however, alimony has more and more been seen in New Jersey as a transitional means of support during the time it takes an ex-spouse to gain the necessary education or training or obtain employment to become self-supporting. Some argue a permanent alimony award does not further those ends; in fact, it discourages the recipient from becoming self-supporting or remarrying.
Under the new law in New Jersey, for any marriage that lasted less than 20 years, an alimony award in a divorce will be limited in most cases to the length of the marriage. Also under the law, alimony will end when the payor reaches full retirement age, and the payment of alimony can be contested if the recipient cohabits with another or if the payor is unemployed for 90 days or more.
Massachusetts passed a similar law in 2012, and the New Jersey law appears to be modeled after the Massachusetts measure in many ways.
Florida had passed alimony reform of its own, but the bill was vetoed by the governor, perhaps because it was intended to be retroactive – something the law changes in Massachusetts and New Jersey didn’t do. In addition, the Florida bill eliminated permanent alimony as a category altogether. Like New Jersey, the Florida bill also allowed for the termination of alimony upon the payor’s unemployment or the recipient’s cohabitation.
California Favors a Limited Period of Spousal Support
In California, spousal support is based on over a dozen different factors, including each party’s earning capacity; whether one party contributed to the education or job training of the other; ability to pay; needs; the duration of the marriage; the ability of the custodial parent to work given the needs of the children; age and health of the parties; and any history of domestic violence.
One of the factors explicitly sets out the goal of spousal support that it be for a limited time while the party becomes self-supporting:
(l) The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. Except in the case of a marriage of long duration as described in Section 4336, a “reasonable period of time” for purposes of this section generally shall be one-half the length of the marriage. However, nothing in this section is intended to limit the court’s discretion to order support for a greater or lesser length of time, based on any of the other factors listed in this section, Section 4336, and the circumstances of the parties.
Although not expressly stated in law, the custom in California is that if the marriage lasted less than ten years, support may be ordered for half the length of the marriage. For longer marriages, an end date is often not given, and it is up to the payor to prove that support is no longer necessary.