TRENTON – After advocates argued for years that New Jersey’s maintenance laws were out of date, Governor Chris Christie signed a bill on Wednesday to revise the system.
“It’s an amazing first step in bringing maintenance laws into the 21st century,” said Thomas Leustek, founder of New Jersey Alimony Reform, a group that campaigned for the changes.
Here are five things you need to know about the new law:
1. No more “permanent” maintenance
Proponents said the concept behind livelihood dates back to a time when many women were financially dependent on their husbands because men were the breadwinners. As a result, many men and more and more women would have to make payments for decades. Last year, about 22,000 ex-spouses received judicial child support in New Jersey.
But the new law abolishes lifelong – or “permanent” – maintenance. Instead, ex-spouses making the payments can, in most cases, request that they be hired or changed when they reach the state retirement age of 67, unless a judge tells otherwise. “Maintenance is no longer forever,” said Leustek. “The recipients must take steps to secure their future.”
The law also provides that for marriages lasting less than 20 years, the duration of payments may not exceed the duration of the marriage – unless a judge decides that there are “exceptional circumstances”. So if you have been married for seven years, you are not required to pay child support for more than seven years.
2. It’s not good for everyone
Most changes in the law only apply to couples who are going to divorce in the future – not someone who is currently paying child support. “It doesn’t change any contractual obligations,” said Paris Eliades, president of the New Jersey State Bar Association.
However, experts note that setting the retirement age benefits these people. This means that those who pay lifelong maintenance can also request that the maintenance be terminated upon retirement.
3. There are stricter rules for living with a new person
According to the old law, payments should end as soon as the former spouse who receives them lives with a new partner, even if they are not married. But people would often “play games,” Eliades said. “They were given a small studio apartment or a room in a boarding house even though they lived in their partner’s house. Other addresses were sometimes used as an escape mechanism.”
Under the new law, there are more specific guidelines.
4. It is easier to cut payments when you are unemployed
Experts said there was an unwritten rule in the old New Jersey subsistence system: you can cut your payment if you’re unemployed, but usually judges said you had to be out of work for a year.
Under the new law, you can apply to the court to reduce payments if you have been unemployed for three months. “If you lost your job and kept paying $ 3,000 but didn’t make any money, that’s a pretty scary prospect,” Leustek said.
5. The calls for change are not over yet
Proponents say the new law is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough. They wished it would extend to those currently paying alimony and be more in line with neighboring Pennsylvania and New York, which have stricter limits on how long payments can be made.
However, Laurence Cutler, a Morristown attorney, said the changes could lead to new lawsuits. “This new law clears a lot of things,” said Cutler, a co-founder of the Marriage Lawyers Alliance. “But every lawsuit that clears something up raises new questions. We’re going to litigate what it all means for the next 10 years or so.”
Brent Johnson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ johnsb01. Find NJ.com Policies on Facebook.