By Victoria Paone Rosa, Esq.
RED BANK – Although acts of domestic violence have always been included in custody and parental leave analyzes in New Jersey, historically domestic violence has not been included in the state’s maintenance analysis. Currently, New Jersey family courts are required to consider 14 distinct factors when calculating alimony, including but not limited to the parties’ financial need and ability to pay.
Recently, the New Jersey Assembly passed legislation, Assembly Bill No. 2668, which would expand the statutory factors for alimony payments to include “whether either [spouse] has been convicted of a felony or offense related to domestic violence.”
If Assembly Bill No. 2668 goes into effect, the family court would have the power to “deny” a child support claim from a potential child support recipient who has been convicted of a felony or offense involving domestic violence against the potential child support payer. In addition, the family court would be given leeway to find that a domestic violence felony or offense against the paying spouse constituted “altered circumstances” for the purpose of terminating or modifying an existing maintenance claim.
In addition, under the proposed law, the Family Court would also have the power to “deny or vary an award of alimony for other bad deeds.”
It appears that the main purpose of the above bill is only to provide economic relief to the child support payer in case the child support recipient is convicted of a domestic violence predicate offense such as assault, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, molestation, stalking, etc. against the payer. However, given the text of this bill, a child support recipient could potentially seek an amendment to increase child support if the payer has committed a “bad deed.”
Regardless of intent, the application of this potential additional maintenance factor remains unclear. For example, would the family court risk a person being publicly charged by that state by stopping their alimony payments if that person is convicted of sending harassing emails to their ex-spouse? If so, would that be a fair result?
While the bill to add a fifteenth subsistence factor has made it through the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee, it awaits passage by the Assembly Budget Appropriations Committee before the Assembly can vote on whether the bill should become law. Although this bill has garnered support on both sides of the aisle, its future remains unclear as it also requires approval from the New Jersey State Senate and the governor.
Residents of New Jersey who are divorcing will want to follow the progress of this bill and its impact on alimony payers and recipients.
(Editor’s Note: Victoria Paone Rosa, Esq. is an associate of the law firm of Paone, Zaleski & Murphy and works in the firm’s Red Bank office at 120 Maple Avenue. Victoria limits her practice to divorce, child support, child custody, equitable distribution, alimony, domestic violence, alimony and all other family law matters.)