Alimony is a court-ordered financial payment that one spouse makes to the other during the divorce process and for a period of time after the final divorce. If you're planning to get divorced or are already in the process, you and your spouse may agree (in writing) that one of you will pay the other a certain amount of alimony for a fixed amount of time. Otherwise, any time a spouse requests alimony as part of the process of filing for divorce in New Jersey, the judge will have to decide whether to grant the request and, if so, how much to award.
Even if you hope to reach a settlement agreement with your spouse, you should understand how alimony works in New Jersey and the rules judges must follow when they make alimony decisions.
New Jersey courts can award one or more of five types of alimony.
Temporary alimony—also called "pendente lite" alimony—is the only type available while the divorce is pending. In New Jersey, the spouses may agree that one spouse will support the other during the divorce, or the spouse needing support can file a motion with the court requesting temporary support. The request will be decided based on the Family Part Case Information Statement the parties submit—a document which lays out the financial details of the case—and any other circumstances that affect the spouse's financial situation while the divorce is pending. The court can also require one spouse to pay a retainer to secure legal services for the other spouse. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:34-23 (2022); N.J. Rule of Court, Rule 1:6-2 (2022).)
Open duration alimony is also sometimes called permanent, because courts award it without assigning a firm end date to the award. In New Jersey, it's typically awarded when a marriage has lasted 20 or more years.
Judges award rehabilitative alimony in cases where one spouse needs financial support while acquiring job training or education that will lead to employment and financial independence. In New Jersey, the supported spouse must show the scope of the training they need, the steps they plan to take, and the time frame for the rehabilitation—including a period of employment during which the rehabilitation will occur. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:34-23(d) (2022).)
Courts generally award limited duration alimony in order to address a spouse's needs after the end of a shorter-term marriage where permanent or rehabilitative alimony wouldn't be appropriate. It recognizes that marriage is a financial partnership, and that it's reasonable for one spouse to need help after a marriage to become financially independent.
This is a type of alimony paid when one spouse supported the other through an advanced education with an expectation that the supporting spouse would share in the earning capacity generated by the education. When a court awards reimbursement alimony, the award can't be modified at a later time. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:34-23(e) (2022).)
Although New Jersey law provides general guidelines as to which of these types of alimony a court should award, judges have discretion to deviate from the guidelines based on the circumstances of the parties and the nature of the case. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:34-23(f) (2022).)
When deciding any type of alimony except pendente lite awards, the court must consider the:
The judge can also consider any other factors they deem relevant. When a judge believes that some of these factors are more or less relevant than the others, they must note their findings and reasoning in writing. (N.J. Stat. §2A:34-23(b) (2022).)
New Jersey courts can require either spouse to pay alimony to the other.
Unlike child support awards, there's no specific formula for judges to use when calculating support. In general, courts will consider the difference between the spouses' gross income, and try to make an award that balances the incomes in an attempt to preserve the lifestyle the spouses enjoyed during the marriage.
If you're concerned about what the court will decide, you and your spouse can sit down and negotiate an alimony agreement without the judge's input. If you come to an agreement, you can submit it to the court for review and approval. If the judge approves it, the court will issue an alimony order.
Alimony awards in New Jersey end on the date specified in the order. If the award has an open duration, there won't be an end date specified, but the award might be subject to regular review by a judge.
New Jersey law states that for any marriage that lasted less than 20 years, the length of an alimony award shouldn't be longer than the length of the marriage. Courts can deviate from this recommendation in "exceptional circumstances," after considering:
(N.J. Stat. § 2A:34-23(c) (2022).)
Alimony awards end automatically in New Jersey when:
The recipient must inform the paying spouse of a remarriage or new civil union immediately, or risk paying attorneys' fees and court costs to the paying spouse. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:34-25 (2022).)
Note that a new marriage or civil union won't automatically end a rehabilitative or reimbursement alimony award unless the court finds good reason to end it.
Either spouse can request a modification from the court, but only when the spouses don't have a written agreement not to change the order. If modification isn't prohibited, then the requesting spouse must prove to the court that, since the last order, there's a change in circumstances or that the recipient spouse failed to meet the court's requirements for alimony.
Some instances when a court might modify or even end an alimony award include:
(N.J. Stat. § 2A:34-23 (2022).)
To request a modification, you will need to file a motion with the court. The New Jersey courts have a detailed informational packet about how to make a motion to modify. You can also find more information about modifying a divorce order on the courts' website.
When judges issue alimony orders, they will dictate how the payments should be made. Typically, the judge will order periodic support payments—often through an income withholding order to the paying spouse's employer.
But what if the paying spouse is self-employed or there's an indication that the paying spouse might not pay? In appropriate situations, New Jersey law allows judges to order the paying spouse to establish a trust fund or another form of security to ensure payment.
In some cases, judges will allow alimony to be paid in a lump sum (in cash or property) rather than periodic payments. This option eliminates any worries about getting the periodic payments, and both spouses might prefer the simplicity. However, receiving a lump sum usually means neither spouse will be able to request a modification later on.
If your divorce was final before 2019, the paying spouse may continue to deduct alimony payments for purposes of federal income taxes, and the recipient spouse must report those payments as income. However, for all couples who divorced in 2019 and beyond, the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated any tax deduction or income reporting requirements for spousal support. That means the Internal Revenue Service won't count spousal support payments as income for the recipient, and the paying spouse won't get the deduction.
The change from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts applies to federal taxes only, though—New Jersey tax law still requires recipients to include alimony as income on their state tax returns, and paying spouses may deduct the payments from income on their own state returns. (N.J. Stat. § 54A:5-1(n) (2022).) According to the New Jersey Tax Guide—Divorcing Your Spouse, though, alimony paid to a spouse might be considered nontaxable if the divorce decree states that the spouse who is paying alimony agrees not to claim it as a deduction.
The differences between federal and New Jersey state tax law can complicate settlement negotiations over the issue of alimony, because it makes it more difficult to figure out the overall tax consequences. If you have any questions about this issue, you should speak with a New Jersey family lawyer or tax expert.
No spouse convicted of murder, manslaughter, criminal homicide, aggravated assault, or a similar offense can receive alimony if:
A person who was convicted of an attempt or conspiracy to commit murder also cannot receive alimony from the person who was the intended victim. Courts also have the discretion to deny alimony for other bad acts. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:34-23(i) (2022).)