Rep. Charles Mainor (D-Hudson), shown in this file photo, is the main sponsor of a bill to revise the state’s “old” maintenance law
(The Jersey Journal)
TRENTON – A long attempt to change the “old” New Jersey Maintenance Act is starting to gain momentum in the state legislature.
The State Assembly today voted 77-0 with 1 abstention for a draft compromise that would remove the term “permanent maintenance” from the law books and make other changes to the system that legislators have described as a relapse into past decades when often only one spouse worked .
“We looked at the payers and the payees and found that the current maintenance laws are ancient and had to be updated by 2014,” said Charles Mainor, Rep. Charles Mainor (D-Hudson) at a meeting of the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee on the bill this morning.
Mainor said he has been working on the issue for two and a half years, which, although debated, has not made any progress in committee to date.
The bill mainly applies to future divorces. However, the bill allows for a “rebuttable presumption” that payments will cease once the person paying has reached “full retirement age,” which lawmakers say is the current state retirement age of 67, a judge may “die Establish conditions under which the change or termination of maintenance will take effect “. And if a person wishes to retire before that age, he or she must demonstrate “the burden” that the plan is “appropriate and made in good faith.”
Other important changes to the bill include:
• In the event of future divorce, if the couple has not been married for more than 20 years, the duration of the maintenance payments cannot exceed the duration of the marriage, unless a judge decides that there are “exceptional circumstances”.
• Under current law, maintenance usually ends when the person who receives the payments is remarried. Under the bill, a judge could stop or suspend payments if that person lives with a new partner without getting married. The bill defines coexistence as “a mutually supportive, intimate personal relationship in which a couple has assumed duties and privileges commonly associated with a marriage or civil partnership”.
• Judges could change alimony payments if the payer has been unemployed for 90 days.
• The legal term “permanent maintenance”, considered by many lawyers to be misleading, would be replaced by “open permanent maintenance”.
The bill is a mix of competing maintenance laws. Many of the changes reflect “developed law,” according to the New Jersey State Bar Association, which supports the bill.
“The New Jersey State Bar Association considers it one of our highest priorities to ensure that all legislation that affects child support is fair and fair for all,” said Paris Eliades, president of the association. “Through the perseverance, patience, and dedicated efforts of the officers of the NJSBA Family Law Executive Committee, we have helped guide our legislative leadership toward meaningful and balanced maintenance reform.”
Not everyone was happy. Erich Truax, a 52-year-old Galloway service technician, said the change in law would hardly free him from his overwhelming alimony payments. Together with child benefit, Truax said half of his income goes to his ex-wife.
An earlier version of the law would have applied to previous divorces, meaning Truax – who was married for 17 years and divorced in 2002 – would likely have gone off the hook with payments in five years.
“I find myself as a contract servant. Enslaved by the state and the laws we have, ”Truax said.
Michael Turner, a lobbyist for the New Jersey Alimony Reform, called the bill the “best result we could get in two and a half years of work,” but said it didn’t go far enough.
“First and foremost, the bill will benefit future maintenance payers. Unfortunately, the bill does little for current maintenance payers, which is unfortunate,” said Turner. “These efforts were started by current alimony payers and their supporters who have drawn attention to the unfair laws and who are victims of the unfair laws.”
Some lawmakers complained that they could barely read the compromise law before voting on it, but still supported it.
“I sincerely wish I had a little more time to absorb something of this magnitude,” said MEP Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen). “I am relying on the State Bar Association’s assurances and confidence that this will be fair to everyone, which my voice will dictate.”
It has yet to pass the state’s Senate and win approval from the governor to become law.
To update: This story has been revised to reflect its passage in the assembly. When it was first published, only the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee approved it.
• Law on the reform of maintenance submitted to the State Assembly
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