Articles Posted in Support

400-05370392Governor Chris Christie recently signed into law long-debated changes to the State’s alimony laws. The new laws represent the first significant changes to a system which, for years, has been criticized as being too harsh and outdated.(1)

One of the major changes is the elimination of permanent or lifetime alimony. Under the new law, paying spouses can request their obligation end, or at least be modified, once they reach age 67, which is the federally recommended retirement age. A major criticism of the old law was that paying spouses often were forced to continue working well after reaching a reasonable retirement age in order to meet their court-ordered alimony obligations.(2)

The new law also imposes a limit on the duration of alimony payments in marriages that lasted fewer than 20 years. With the change, alimony payments awarded for such unions now cannot be ordered for longer than the term of the marriage. The law does, however, allow judges to order extended payments under certain exceptional circumstances.(2)

Another significant change is the ability for paying spouses to petition the court for a modification of their payment obligations when faced with the loss of a job. Under the previous law, the paying spouse usually had to be out of work for at least a year before a judge would consider a request for modification. Under the new law, such modifications could be requested if the paying spouse is out of work for three months.(2)

Additionally, the amended law makes it easier for the paying spouse to seek an end to payments, if the receiving spouse begins living with another person, with the inclusion of more specific guidelines about what constitutes cohabitation.(2) Continue reading

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Earlier this month New Jersey law enforcement officials apprehended 760 parents who were delinquent on their child support payments, collecting about $130,996 of the $14,856,998 owed in back payments. In Warren County alone, 14 people, owing a combined $161,683, were arrested as part of this sweep and $240 in delinquent support payments was collected in Superior Court.(1)

This sweep, conducted over a three-day period from July 15 through July 17, was the sixth annual effort by the State’s Sheriff’s Association. Sheriff’s officers were assisted by other law enforcement agents in their efforts. The goal was to apprehend non-custodial parents who had fallen behind in their child support, as well as parents who failed to attend court hearings at which orders for child support or medical support were to be set.(1)

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state%20map.jpgWhen alimony is awarded as part of a legal separation or divorce settlement, it becomes a legally binding agreement enforceable by the court. As such, the receiving spouse has recourse if and when the paying spouse fails to meet his or her payment obligation. Usually, this involves filing a petition with the court that issued the order to have the obligation enforced, assuming both parties still live within the jurisdiction of that court. What happens if the paying spouse moves to another state?

The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), originally drafted in 1992 and amended as recently as 2008, was designed to ensure that orders of family support were honored across state borders. (1) Although the Act primarily enforces the payment of child support, it also covers spousal support or alimony. (2)

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alimony.jpg The New Jersey Bar Association has joined the fight for alimony reform within the State. The problem, however, is that now two groups are fighting over whose proposed bill is better.

For over two years now, a group known as NJ Alimony Reform has sought to eliminate permanent alimony in the State. This group is now joined by the State Bar Association, which is also seeking to bring changes to the current laws regulating alimony payments, but the two groups are going about their goals differently, thus creating competition for lawmakers’ approval. (1)

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Couples who live together without the benefit of marriage cannot benefit from the protections of divorce and alimony laws should their relationship end. Instead, these couples can resolve their financial issues through a contractual arrangement referred to as “palimony.” (1) There are differences, however, between alimony and palimony that, if you are not aware of, could affect your chances of collecting.

The obvious difference between the two is that alimony is granted to married partners and palimony to partners who never married but lived in a marriage-like relationship. Other differences may not be so obvious.(1)

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unhappy%20couple.jpgThe State Assembly currently is considering legislation to end permanent alimony and clarify the guidelines under which other forms of alimony are awarded. (1)

In New Jersey, there are four main variations of alimony that can be awarded upon the end of a marriage or civil union: limited duration alimony, rehabilitative alimony, reimbursement alimony, and permanent alimony. (1)

Limited duration alimony is the most common. Also known as term alimony, this is payable only for a specified time and is usually intended to give the receiving spouse enough time to become financially self-sufficient. Rehabilitative alimony is also payable for a specified time, usually long enough for a dependent partner to gain the training and/or education needed to find employment. Reimbursement alimony is awarded when one partner makes financial sacrifices to enable the other partner to further his or her education in an effort to improve earnings potential. And finally, permanent alimony is usually awarded in the dissolution of long-term marriages or unions, particularly when the earnings potentials of the partners are drastically unequal due to one spouse sacrificing education and/or career goals in order to take care of the family. New Jersey also has a temporary, or “pendent lite” alimony, which is awarded to help take care of the living expenses of an unemployed or low-earning spouse during divorce proceedings. (2)

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dollars (Photo credit: Tddy)

Alimony, otherwise known as spousal support, is intended to protect the less financially stable partner once a marriage ends. However, when circumstances change, this protective order for one partner turns into a hardship for the other and both parties lose. It is the need to address these changing circumstances that have some calling for reform of the State’s alimony laws.

A recent Hunterdon County case illustrates the negative effect New Jersey’s current alimony laws can have on a family. Following his 2011 divorce, John Waldorf was ordered to pay both spousal and child support. The problem was that the spousal support payments alone exceeded his average annual take home pay. Waldorf was jailed for failure to meet his alimony obligations. As a result his ex-wife, who is disabled, received no financial support. To make matters even worse, Waldorf lost his job while in jail, further hindering his ability to meet his court-ordered obligations. (1)

Senior leaders visit Sandy response efforts in...

Senior leaders visit Sandy response efforts in NJ and NY (Photo credit: The National Guard)

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, many lives throughout the State were put on hold. Schools were closed; work was missed; bank fees were waived; homes were destroyed; and even property tax deadlines were extended. Some obligations, however, can’t be easily put off no matter what the hardship. One of those is child support.

New Jersey law considers child support an ongoing obligation of both parents. In cases of divorce or of children born outside of marriage, the custodial parent’s share of the support is usually considered satisfied by day-to-day expenditures related to the care of the child. The non-custodial parent satisfies his or her obligations through a child support order. (1)

When a couple with children divorces in New Jersey, child support payments are determined with the help of guidelines established by court rule. (1) Because our lives are not stagnant, circumstances can arise that turn what was once considered a fair payment into a hardship. Usually these circumstances involve a significant change in income of one or both parents. However, even a child going off to college can trigger the need to petition the court for adjustment of support payments. If, after reading the following, you need the assistance of a Hunterdon County lawyer regarding child support, the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm in Lebanon can help.

New Jersey’s guidelines for determining child support take into consideration a number of factors, first of which is the net income of both parents. Wages, tips, overtime, unemployment benefits and even lottery winnings are all considered part of income; welfare or disability payments, however, are not. Taxes and mandatory deductions are deducted from the income total (although voluntary deductions, such as retirement or savings plans, are added back in) in order to arrive at net income. The combined “net” income of both parents determines the family income. The family income divided by the number of children determines the basic child support award. This award can be divided between the parents depending on the contribution of each to the family’s total income. (2)

The guidelines are intended to make sure there is enough money available to the custodial parent to care for the child. They are not intended to make either parent poor. If either parent experiences a significant change in income, a petition to the court to adjust the child support payments can be warranted. In these cases, the courts can return to the guidelines to reconfigure a fair support order. There are other circumstances, however, where the State Appellate Division recently advised courts to ignore the guidelines — specifically when it involves a child’s enrollment in college. (3)

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alimony (Photo credit: Kalense Kid)

Massachusetts recently updated its alimony laws to reflect our changing times. (1) Will New Jersey soon follow the example? If after reading the following you need assistance with an alimony issue, particularly in Hunterdon County, contact the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm in Lebanon.

Approval was recently given by the New Jersey Assembly Judiciary Committee to appoint a commission to review the State’s alimony laws. The committee would consist of 11 members and would have 9 months to complete a study of the State’s current alimony laws, on their own and as compared with the laws of other states, and make recommendations for changes to the Legislature and governor. (2)