United States: New Jersey Enacts Alimony Reform Bill

Last Updated: September 22 2014
Article by Robert A. Epstein and Eric S. Solotoff

After almost three years of legislative debate and public discussion, alimony reform has finally come to New Jersey. On September 10, 2014, Governor Chris Christie signed into law a bill that went into immediate effect and substantially amends various provisions of New Jersey's alimony law, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23. As a general overview, the bill "establishes durational limits and enumerates certain factors concerning modification and termination of alimony; establishes 'open durational' alimony."

Importantly, the amended law does not apply retroactively, expressly providing that it "shall not be construed either to modify the duration of alimony ordered or agreed upon or other specifically bargained for contractual provisions that have been incorporated into: (1) a final judgment of divorce or dissolution; (2) a final order that has concluded post-judgment litigation; or (3) any enforceable written agreement between the parties." Thus, specifically as to alimony awards, the law will apply only to divorces in process and future divorces. The law will, however, apply to applications to modify alimony based upon changes of circumstances and retirement.

Highlights of the law, which include several codified provisions of already existing case law, are as follows:

Duration of Alimony

In what is considered the most significant change to the existing alimony law, the term "permanent" alimony has been replaced by "open durational" alimony. Use of the word "permanent" sparked controversy and debate for years, culminating in its elimination from the law. Now, for any marriage of less than 20 years in duration, the total duration of alimony shall not exceed the length of the marriage, except in "exceptional circumstances." The length and amount of alimony shall still be determined pursuant to the statutory factors. However, new is the consideration of "the practical impact of the parties' need for separate residences and the attendant increase in living expenses on the ability of both parties to maintain a standard of living reasonably comparable to the standard of living established in the marriage . . ." After the Crews case was decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2000, marital lifestyle was elevated above the other alimony factors and further, led to the misconception that the supported spouse only is entitled to maintain the marital standard of living. The new law provides that neither party has a greater entitlement to the standard of living (or a reasonably comparable standard of living) established during the marriage.

A non-inclusive list of "exceptional circumstances" is set forth in the proposed law and includes:

  • The ages of the parties at the time of the marriage or civil union and at the time of the alimony award;
  • The degree and duration of the dependency of one party on the other party during the marriage or civil union;
  • Whether a spouse or partner has a chronic illness or unusual health circumstance;
  • Whether a spouse or partner has given up a career or a career opportunity or otherwise supported the career of the other spouse or partner;
  • Whether a spouse or partner has received a disproportionate share of the marital estate;
  • The impact of the marriage or civil union on either party's ability to become self-supporting, including but not limited to either party's responsibility as primary caretaker of a child;
  • Tax considerations of either party; and
  • Any other factors or circumstances that the court deems equitable, relevant and material.

This watershed change to the law gained momentum following Gnall v. Gnall, 432 N.J. Super. 129 (App. Div. 2013), last year's Appellate Division decision, in which a marriage of 15 years in duration was considered a long-term marriage meriting a permanent alimony award. While that case is now pending before the Supreme Court of New Jersey, a marriage of less than 20 years would no longer merit such an award under the new law.

Pendente Lite Support Payments

The nature, amount and length of pendente lite support, if any, paid during a divorce proceeding is now a codified statutory factor to consider when rendering a final alimony award. Put another way, the court is now required to consider how long interim support has been paid in determining final alimony. The result of this should be to dis-incentivize a payee spouse who may be biding his or her time during a divorce proceeding with the belief that receiving monthly support payments on an interim basis during a proceeding will not impact the overall duration of a final alimony award.

Weight of Alimony Factors

In analyzing the alimony factors, a court is required to "consider and assess evidence with respect to all relevant" factors and specify, with written findings of fact and conclusions of law, if it determined that certain factors are more or less relevant than others. The law provides that no factor shall carry more weight than any other factor unless the court finds otherwise.

Reimbursement Alimony

The law provides that this form of alimony may not be modified for any reason.


Perhaps the second most significant change to the alimony law pertains to the ability of a retiring payor to modify or terminate his or her alimony obligation. While extensive case law already exists on this subject, the amended, codified language provides a clearer path for litigants to address this issue, while easing the obligor's burden to procure relief.

"Full Retirement Age"

As a threshold point, "full retirement age" is defined as the age at "which a person is eligible to receive full retirement benefits under the Social Security Act" – presently 67 years of age.

Rebuttable Presumption

There is now a rebuttable presumption that alimony terminates once the obligor spouse reaches full retirement age, which can still be set to a different date based on a showing of "good cause." The rebuttable presumption may be overcome, however, and alimony may continue, based on a consideration of the following factors, and for good cause shown:

  • The ages of the parties at the time of the application for retirement;
  • The ages of the parties at the time of the marriage or civil union and their ages at the time of entry of the alimony award;
  • The degree and duration of the economic dependency of the recipient upon the payor during the marriage or civil union;
  • Whether the recipient has foregone, relinquished or otherwise sacrificed claims, rights or property in exchange for a more substantial or longer alimony award;
  • The duration or amount of alimony already paid;
  • The health of the parties at the time of the retirement application;
  • Assets of the parties at the time of the retirement application;
  • Whether the recipient has reached full retirement age as defined in the law;
  • Sources of income, both earned and unearned, of the parties;
  • The ability of the recipient to have saved adequately for retirement; and
  • Any other factors that the court may deem relevant.

If the rebuttable presumption is overcome based on the enunciated factors, a court is required to apply the standard alimony factors to determine whether a modification or termination of alimony is appropriate. Critically, "if the obligor intends to retire but has not yet retired, the court shall establish the conditions under which the modification or termination of alimony will be effective." In other words, it offers a defined path to relief for the payor, perhaps without the need for more litigation.

Retiring Before "Full Retirement Age"

If the obligor seeks to retire before full retirement age, the obligor must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the prospective or actual retirement is reasonable and made in good faith. A series of factors is then set forth to determine what constitutes "reasonable and made in good faith," including, but not limited to, the age and health of the parties at the time of the application; the obligor's field of employment and the generally accepted age of retirement for those in that field; and the age when the obligor becomes eligible for retirement at the obligor's place of employment, including mandatory retirement dates or the dates upon which continued employment would no longer increase retirement benefits. Similarly, if the obligor intends to retire, but has not yet done so, the court is required to establish conditions under which the modification or termination of alimony will become effective.

Retiring in Cases Where There Is an Existing Final Alimony Order or Enforceable Written Agreement Established Prior to the Amended Law

Interestingly, while the amended law also applies to prior final alimony orders and enforceable written agreements on the issue of retirement, there is no similar rebuttable presumption as there would be in a situation involving a post-amendment alimony order or agreement. The factors considered are the same as those for a person who, with a final alimony order or enforceable written agreement post-amendment, seeks to retire before "full retirement age." In addition, the court is required to consider the ability of the obligee to have adequately saved for retirement. That said, getting past the initial showing of a good faith retirement in the prior law has been eliminated.

Assets Distributed at Time of Divorce/Dissolution

The law provides that such assets are not to be considered by a court when determining an obligor's ability to pay alimony following retirement.

Modification Based on Loss of Income

A major area of post-judgment litigation involves an obligor's request to modify alimony resulting from a loss of income. With the amended law, both trial judges and litigants will seemingly have a quicker and more defined path to address these situations than that which previously existed.

Non-Self-Employed Obligors

Pursuant to Lepis v. Lepis, 81 N.J. 281 (1980), the Supreme Court of New Jersey's benchmark decision on this topic, a court is required to consider several factors to, in part, determine whether an alleged loss of income constitutes a "substantial and continuing" change in circumstance meriting further analysis and, ultimately, a potential alimony modification. There is no definitive period in the case law, however, for what constitutes "continuing," as each case was based upon its own facts and circumstances.

The amendment provides that where the changed circumstances arise from a loss of employment, an obligor may seek relief after merely 90 days (but no sooner) of having been unemployed, or unable to return to or attain employment at prior income levels (or both). Courts are directed to consider several enumerated factors, all of which have been discussed in prior case law. These factors include, but are not limited to, the reasons for any loss of income; the obligor's documented efforts to obtain replacement employment or pursue an alternative occupation in the event of a job loss; whether there has been a good faith effort to find remunerative employment at any level and in any field in the event of a job loss; and the income of the obligor and the obligee's circumstances.

Self-Employed Obligors

For self-employed obligors, the amended law provides that, in the event of an involuntary reduction of income, any request for relief must include an analysis detailing "the economic and non-economic benefits the party receives from the business" and a comparison of such benefits to those existing at the time of the order upon which modification is sought.


Essentially codifying existing case law, alimony may be suspended or terminated if the obligee spouse cohabits with another person. "Cohabit" is defined as involving a "mutually supportive, intimate personal relationship in which a couple has undertaken duties and privileges that are commonly associated with marriage or civil union but does not necessarily maintain a single common household." A variety of factors are enunciated, similar to those detailed in existing case law, including but not limited to, intertwined finances (i.e., joint bank accounts and other joint holdings); sharing or joint responsibility for living expenses; recognition of the relationship in the couple's social and family circle; and living together, the frequency of contact, the duration of the relationship and other indicia of a mutually supportive intimate personal relationship. There cannot be an absence of cohabitation "solely on the grounds that the couple does not live together on a full-time basis," which is a significant change as case law was previously inconsistent on this issue.


Many alimony critics say that the changes did not go far enough. On the other side, a proposed alternative bill was so cumbersome that it could have made things worse. Time will tell if this bill is really a watershed moment or "much ado about nothing." Either way, it is imperative that those who are divorcing and those already divorced consider and understand these changes to the alimony law.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Robert A. Epstein
Eric S. Solotoff
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:
  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.
  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

    Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of www.mondaq.com

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

    By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions