For about a decade, Limited Duration Alimony (LDA) has been an available form of alimony in New Jersey. The questions often asked regarding LDA is, when should it be awarded and, relatedly, for how much and how long?
These questions were recently addressed in the unpublished Appellate Division opinion of Elliott v. Prisock-Elliot, decided on June 2, 2009. Generally, where one spouse is economically dependent upon the other at the end of a marriage, an alimony award helps the dependent spouse achieve a lifestyle "reasonably comparable" to that enjoyed during the marriage. Several factors are included in a Court’s alimony determination under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23, including, but not limited to the dependent’s spouse’s needs and ability to fulfill them, and the other spouse’s ability to contribute.
LDA, though, is specifically intended to address a dependent spouse’s economic need for support where the marriage reflected a true partnership, but the marriage itself was too short in duration for a permanent alimony award, and the dependent spouse needs neither education nor job training to return to the workforce that would potentially merit a rehabilitative alimony award. LDA essentially aids the dependent spouse who has the education/job skills to have a career, but devoted efforts instead to the marriage and allowed the other spouse to increase their own earning capacity at the same time.
The Appellate Division found that the trial judge in Elliott failed to adequately consider the alimony factors and the purpose of LDA in granting its award of 10 years of LDA at $30,000 per year on a marriage of less than 10 years at the time the complaint for divorce was filed and approximately 12 years when the dual judgment of divorce was entered. Specifically, the Appellate Division noted the trial court’s error as to the length of the marriage; its complete lack of findings as to each spouse’s marital contributions other than that each had worked on their own to care for the children; and its insufficient assessment of the dependent spouse’s need for alimony and the other spouse’s ability to pay. The trial court’s decision on alimony was reversed as a result.
While LDA should not be awarded as a substitute for permanent alimony when a permanent award is appropriate, a proper LDA determination requires a careful look at each fact-specific case and how those facts mesh with the statutory alimony factors in New Jersey, as well as a consideration of LDA’s overall purpose in aiding a dependent spouse in need. Also, while the amount of an LDA may be modified, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(c) prohibits modification of the length of the LDA term except in the case of the broadly termed "unusual circumstances."