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Lawmakers seek to establish alimony guidelines

Two bills on the floor of the New Jersey legislature would, if enacted, create guidelines for establishing the duration of alimony payments in the state's divorce actions. The first bill is modeled after a law passed in Massachusetts in 2011 and would establish a uniform formula for setting the duration of alimony payments. New Jersey currently has no such formula, and payers may end alimony obligations only by petitioning the court, and at the court's discretion. Under the terms of the bill, alimony payments would terminate by default when the payer retires, though judges would have the power to extend payments in certain cases.

The second bill, which is supported by the New Jersey State Bar Association family law section, would make certain changes to New Jersey divorce law and would replace the term "permanent alimony" with "indefinite alimony." Supporters of the bills claim that the current system results in undue hardship for alimony payers, who are sometimes unfairly punished for inability to pay alimony to ex-spouses even when financial circumstances have changed significantly.

Those who oppose the proposals argue that judges should have discretion in deciding divorce cases and awarding alimony and should not be forced to apply a general formula to their various individual cases. Traditionally, alimony has not been governed by mathematical formulation, and many states use the term "indefinite alimony".

Alimony is awarded in only 20 to 30 percent of divorce cases, and permanent alimony is rare. Most divorce cases will therefore not be greatly affected one way or another by either proposed bill, although there could be some impact. A family law attorney may be able to provide more information about the implications of the legislation on complex divorce and high asset divorce cases.

Source: Philly.com, "New Jersey bill would set guidelines for alimony", Maddie Hanna, December 02, 2013

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