Continuing with the discussion of divorce, we now arrive at the letter “O”, which brings us to the topic of open durational alimony. Alimony in New Jersey got an update with the passage of a significant piece of legislation in September 2014, which among other modifications, changed one type of alimony from “permanent” to “open durational”. While the previous nomenclature of “permanent” alimony seemed like a never-ending obligation, in reality this was not the case. For example, permanent alimony was typically paid until the supporting spouse reached retirement, at which time they would be entitled to make an application to either modify or terminate their alimony payments. Permanent alimony would also be reduced if another significant change of circumstance occurred, such as disability, decrease of income, cohabitation or remarriage of the supported spouse.
Aside from a modernization of title, the biggest change to open durational alimony impacts marriages that have a duration between 15-20 years. Prior to the 2014, there was not a bright-line rule as to the duration of a marriage that would fall under permanent alimony. For example, one judge may have determined that a marriage of 15 years warranted a permanent alimony award and a different judge in the same courthouse may have deemed this as limited durational alimony (defined support end date). As a practitioner, you can understand how this level of uncertainty made it difficult to advise clients who found themselves in marriages within this durational range.
With the change to open durational alimony, absent exceptional circumstances, our law addressed this issue and now clearly states that spousal support award may not exceed the length of a couple’s marriage, if it is less than 20 years. If a marriage exceeds the 20-year threshold, there is not set duration of the obligation, which is now open durational alimony. Open durational alimony has an open term until a court terminates it or the parties agree to terminate. However, with the average age in which couples getting married increasing and the 2014 strengthening of a payor spouse’s rights to modify their alimony obligation at retirement (a topic that will be discussed in detail in a later blog), there are limited scenarios in which alimony obligations will exceed the 20 years in duration. For example, if a couple is married at 30 years of age and remains married for exactly 20 years, with a divorce at the age of 50, the payor spouse in this scenario would likely only pay open durational alimony for 17 years, due to their recognized Social Security retirement age of 67.
As the length of marriage is only one factor in the analysis when establishing an alimony award in New Jersey, it is important to work with an attorney that has substantial knowledge and experience in navigating these issues. The attorneys at Ulrichsen Rosen & Freed LLC can assist you with this process. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this topic.