Alimony is supposed to be decided based upon the statutory factors, right? There really isn’t a formula to determine alimony, right? Even if there is this formula that is used to get a ball park figure for a range of alimony, judge’s can’t use it, right? So what happens when they do?
We have blogged on the so called "rule of thumb" several times before. In fact, we reported on one case last year that specifically said that a formula approach to determine alimony was impermissible. On the other hand, we also blogged on another case last year where an expert in a legal malpractice case against a divorce lawyer based her opinion that the alimony was too low based upon this formula and the court found this a permissible opinion because the use of a formula was "widely accepted by the members of the matrimonial bar.
The use of the "formula" or "rule of thumb" was disfavored again this month in the case of Eick v. Eick, an unreported (non-precedential) decision from the Appellate Division. Just as it did last year, the Appellate Division stopped short of saying that the trial judge actually used a formula. However, the court held:
Plaintiff argues that the remand judge may have used an impermissible formula to determine the amount of alimony, rather than applying the factors required by N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b) to the facts shown by the evidence. He contends that the judge subtracted defendant’s annual income of $52,909 from his five-year average income of $94,6322 and then awarded defendant thirty-three percent of the resulting figure. This calculation appears to match the amount of alimony awarded by the judge in this case.
We decline to speculate whether the remand judge used such a formula. Nevertheless, as a general proposition, we agree with plaintiff that use of a percentage formula based only on the parties’ incomes is not authorized by law. Such a formula does not weigh and balance particular factors as listed in the statute and as might affect each individual case.
Just as in the case last year, the court was not precluded from coming to the number that the formula determined, but "… but require additional support in the record for its determination." So with all of these cases, is the take away that you cannot use a formula, but if a court does, it should make factual findings supporting the amount ordered?
Eric Solotoff is the editor of the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and the Co-Chair of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Lawyer and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, Eric practices in Fox Rothschild’s Roseland, New Jersey office though he practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Eric at (973)994-7501, or firstname.lastname@example.org.