The Garden State is notorious for imposing harsh alimony orders on divorcing spouses. The American Bar Association even called New Jersey resident Ari Scochet “the poster child for alimony reform” after his debilitating spousal support debts transformed him from wealthy portfolio manager to destitute prisoner bouncing in and out jail. Alimony reform groups have spent years battling for more lenient laws, and now, they may finally get their wish, thanks to a new compromise bill introduced by Assemblyman Charles Mainor (D-Hudson).
Opponents Say Permanent Alimony is Costly and Sexist
There is no shortage of permanent alimony horror stories in New Jersey. In a recent example — one which is dishearteningly similar to Ari Scochet’s story — John Waldorf of Lebanon Township is appealing his spousal support obligations because his inability to pay resulted in several months of imprisonment in the Hunterdon County Jail. During his divorce trial, Waldorf was ordered to pay his ex-wife Lisa $104,000 per year. That’s $2,000 every week, for the rest of Waldorf’s life.
Unsurprisingly, the demands soon exceeded Waldorf’s resources, resulting in incarceration and financial ruin. Waldorf now plans to appeal the Appellate Division of the State Superior Court’s decision to uphold his devastating financial obligations.
Waldorf and Scochet are grim examples of what can happen, and many New Jersey residents with divorce on the horizon understandably fear meeting the same fate.
However, the financial cruelty of permanent alimony isn’t the only aspect of the state’s laws with which reformers take issue. New Jersey Alimony Reform (NJAR) says the laws are also sexist. To quote the group’s website, “New Jersey alimony laws were mostly established in the 1940’s and 1950’s — when virtually all women were stay-at-home mothers and men were the family breadwinner. […] The outdated concept, on which alimony was originally based, that divorced women are incapable of self-sufficiency, is alive and well in NJ even though alimony is claimed to be gender-neutral.”
Others have also alleged that permanent alimony is sexist towards men, for much the same reasons. Says writer Noah Berlatsky, whose pieces have appeared in publications like Salon, Esquire, and the Atlantic, “After divorce men can face burdensome alimony payments even in situations where their ex-wives are capable of working and earning a substantial income. Even in cases where temporary alimony makes sense — as when a spouse has quit a job to raise the children — it’s hard to understand the need for lifetime alimony payments, given women’s current levels of workforce participation.”
A845 Competes with A1649 for Best Reforms
Berlatsky and NJAR would be pleased to hear about Assemblyman Charles Mainor’s new compromise bill, A845/S488. The bill calls for changing “permanent alimony” to “alimony with indefinite term,” which would make facilitate retroactive modification in the event of job loss, retirement, or other financial changes.
It also sets concrete relationships between length of marriage and extent of spousal support. Under A845, at the low end of the spectrum five or fewer years of marriage caps alimony at 50% of the total months married, while at the opposite end, 15 to 20 years of marriage sets the cap at 80%. Furthermore, the bill proposes that domestic violence victims should not have to pay their abusers.
However, A845 is not without detractors. Democratic Assembly members Pamella Lampitt and Thomas Giblin, along with the New Jersey Bar Association, support alternative bill A1649/S1808. This bill would also effectuate significant reform — but would offer greater flexibility in terms of the relationship between marriage duration and amount of alimony, which is quite fixed in Mainor’s bill.
If you are filing for divorce in New Jersey, an experienced family law lawyer can help advocate for a favorable alimony arrangement. To schedule your free, confidential case evaluation, call the law offices of Maselli Warren at (800) 891-2657, or contact us online today.