Couples often find that money is the root of most of their marital issues. Unfortunately, divorce doesn’t end money issues and can make things worse, especially if one spouse is financially dependent on the other. Alimony—or, spousal support—is a court-ordered financial payment that one spouse makes to the other during the divorce process, and sometimes, for a period after.
If you’re requesting alimony, the judge may award you one (or any combination) of five types of support: temporary (pendente lite), limited duration, rehabilitative, reimbursement, or permanent alimony.
Pendente lite alimony is the only type available while the divorce is pending. The court awards this temporary support when one spouse is financially dependent on the other and needs help to cover living expenses during the divorce.
Judges will award limited-duration alimony in cases where the supported spouse needs time to become self-supporting after the divorce. The court will typically include a list of conditions for support, which the spouse must meet or risk the court terminating the award.
Rehabilitative alimony is available in cases where the dependent spouse needs financial support while acquiring job training or education that will lead to employment and financial independence. The court requires the recipient to show the scope of rehabilitation, the steps necessary, and the time frame for the support.
The court will award reimbursement alimony if one spouse financially supported the other by helping support the other through an advanced education during the marriage and expected to benefit from the education. For example, if you supported your spouse through law school, but divorced before you could reap any financial benefits from it, the court may order your spouse to pay you back.
Permanent alimony is less common than the others, and courts typically reserve it for long-terms marriages where a dependent spouse is unable to become self-supporting. Despite the name of the support, it’s rarely permanent and only continues for as long as the recipient has a valid reason why financial independence is impossible.
Either spouse can request alimony, but the court will only award it after evaluating the following:
The court has broad discretion when deciding alimony. Unlike child support awards, there’s no specific formula for judges to use when calculating support. 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. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:34-23 (b)-(e) (2018).) 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 a spousal support order.
New Jersey law expressly prohibits alimony awards to a spouse convicted of murder, manslaughter, criminal homicide, aggravated assault, or a similar offense if the offender caused death or serious bodily harm to a family member of a divorcing spouse after the marriage or civil union. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:34-23 (i) (2018).)
Every divorce case is individual, and the duration of your alimony award depends on the needs of the supported spouse and the circumstances that caused the judge to order alimony. Pendente lite alimony ends when the judge finalizes the divorce and creates a new, post-divorce award.
If the supported spouse remarries or enters into a New Jersey civil union, permanent and limited-duration alimony will terminate as of the date of the remarriage or civil union. The recipient must inform the paying spouse of the remarriage or civil union immediately, or risk paying attorney fees and court costs to the paying spouse.
Remarriage and civil unions do not end rehabilitative or reimbursement alimony unless the couple agrees, or the court finds there is good cause to terminate the order. All forms of alimony terminate if either spouse dies.
The court may order a lump-sum or periodic payments for support. Lump-sum payments are helpful in cases where the paying spouse is self-employed or otherwise doesn’t receive a regular paycheck. Judges can also require paying spouses to transfer ownership of marital property to satisfy alimony awards.
Most payments are periodic, usually monthly. Couples can agree to the payment method for support, like direct deposit or mailing a check, but if an agreement isn’t possible, the court will probably include an income withholding order. Income withholding orders instruct the paying spouse’s employer to withhold alimony from the paycheck and send it directly to the recipient. Spouses can also agree to other forms of payment, such as Venmo or bank account transfers.
If your spouse isn’t paying court-ordered alimony, you can ask a judge for help enforcing the judgment by filing a request with the court. Failure to follow a court order can result in fines, court fees, bank seizures, and even jail time.
Either spouse can request a modification from the court, but only if the spouses didn’t agree, in writing, 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.
For example, if the court orders limited-duration alimony while the couple’s children are minors, and one child reaches age 18, the court may modify to adjust for the change. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:34-23 (c)-(e) (2018).)
For divorces finalized on or after January 1, 2019, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is treating the payments like child support: alimony payments are no longer tax-deductible to the paying spouse or reportable income for the recipient. On the other hand, if you finalized your spousal support agreement and/or received your support order before January 1, 2019, the paying spouse can deduct alimony payments, and the supported spouse must report and pay taxes on the support. Couples should speak with an experienced attorney to learn how these tax changes impact their divorce.