We have done dozens of posts on this blog about alimony over the last 5 years. Recent experiences have convinced me that it is time to get basics. Despite all of the cases that say that you can’t use a formula (the rule of thumb we have discussed previously on this blog), more and more, people are espousing a blind adherence to the rule of thumb. In one recent case with income of a few hundred thousand, an adversary told me that it was the maximum amount of alimony that I can get, despite the fact that it came no where close to meeting my client’s already pared down budget. In another case, where the income was a few million, one side was arguing that the rule of thumb was a minimum, as if there should be no consideration of any other factors.
Despite the calls for alimony reform and formulas, as we have said many times, courts deciding cases cannot use rules of thumb. Even when they do, they can’t tell you that they did. Rather, they have to review the alimony factors set forth in the statute – remember them? Here, they are again, from N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b):
(1) The actual need and ability of the parties to pay;
(2) The duration of the marriage or civil union;
(3) The age, physical and emotional health of the parties;
(4) The standard of living established in the marriage or civil union and the likelihood that each party can maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living;
(5) The earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties;
(6) The length of absence from the job market of the party seeking maintenance;
(7) The parental responsibilities for the children;
(8) The time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment, the availability of the training and employment, and the opportunity for future acquisitions of capital assets and income;
(9) The history of the financial or non-financial contributions to the marriage or civil union by each party including contributions to the care and education of the children and interruption of personal careers or educational opportunities;
(10) The equitable distribution of property ordered and any payouts on equitable distribution, directly or indirectly, out of current income, to the extent this consideration is reasonable, just and fair;
(11) The income available to either party through investment of any assets held by that party;
(12) The tax treatment and consequences to both parties of any alimony award, including the designation of all or a portion of the payment as a non-taxable payment; and
(13) Any other factors which the court may deem relevant.
Other basics to remember. The court has to rule out permanent alimony first. Further, the statute provides that:
If the court determines that an award of permanent alimony is not warranted, the court shall make specific findings on the evidence setting out the reasons therefor. The court shall then consider whether alimony is appropriate for any or all of the following: (1) limited duration; (2) rehabilitative; (3) reimbursement. In so doing, the court shall consider and make specific findings on the evidence about factors set forth above. The court shall not award limited duration alimony as a substitute for permanent alimony in those cases where permanent alimony would otherwise be awarded.
While the amount of limited duration alimony is modifiable based upon changed circumstances ".. or upon the nonoccurrence of circumstances that the court found would occur at the time of the award", the duration is not modifiable "except in unusual circumstances."
While sometimes the "rules of thumb" garner a fair result, other times it does not. Consideration must be given of all of the factors before blind acceptance of a formula which the courts cannot use in any event.
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.