How Long Do Alimony Payments Continue?
How long, indeed?
Before I answer your question, let’s start with the most basic question. How long have you and your spouse been married? To be clear, the length of the marriage is typically calculated from the actual date that you were both married, to the date that the complaint for divorce was filed. If you were married to your spouse for a period of 20 years or less, you are not going to receive alimony payments for a term longer than that of your marriage. If you have been married for 12 years, then you may not receive alimony payments past 12 years after the divorce unless you are facing exceptional circumstances.
Following this, I typically urge my clients to figure out how much money they really need. While you ponder that, do remember to consider three very important factors that will determine the court’s ruling:
- the income of the payor
- their ability to pay
- the need of either party
The concept of alimony is based on maintaining the same standard of living after the divorce as both parties were accustomed to during the marriage. After having taken into consideration the length of the marriage, the next factor under scrutiny is need. The judge will ultimately decide on an alimony payment that will ensure either party can maintain lifestyles with minimal deviation from the standard pre-divorce one, whilst drawing the line at the payor spouse’s income, ability to pay and the need of the payee spouse.
When calculating the amount that is to be paid in alimony, the judge will look at a variety of different factors, including but not limited to, incomes and income potentials of either party, assets, debts…you get the gist.
It is important to note here that alimony is not compensation. It is spousal maintenance. The purpose of spousal maintenance is to help the payee spouse get back on their own feet. It is not a compensation for any grief or distress the payor spouse may have caused. As a result, alimony payments will end when the length of time that the payee spouse receives it has equaled the length of the marriage. Please be wary of lawyers who guarantee they can get you alimony for a lifetime. Unless you have been married for over 20 years, it is highly improbable. A lawyer’s job is to give you recommendations based on their understanding, interpretation and experience of the law as specific to the facts of your case. Not to console you or make false promises.
- How long alimony is paid depends on the need of the party receiving alimony, and the length of the marriage.
- Alimony is not compensation but rehabilitative, and hence can be terminated when the term it has been paid equals the length of the marriage, or when the recipient spouse’s need is reduced.
Cohabitation and Alimony
A lot of my clients often ask me what might happen to their alimony payments if they were to begin dating or cohabiting with somebody new, after (or even during) their divorce. Irrespective of whether you are already divorced or are going through the divorce process, cohabitation can complicate matters and can even be used to terminate alimony payments being made to the payee spouse. While it might sound a tad unfair, from the perspective of the courts, it is actually what is most fair. In fact, the courts can affect immediate suspension or even termination of spousal support.
I know what you might be thinking. Does receiving alimony payments condemn you to the single life? Does alimony preclude you henceforth from finding another partner and moving on with your life? Is a life of loneliness the price you pay to receive the money your ex pays you? The answer is “No”.
However, you have to bear in mind that alimony is need-based. If you are found to be “cohabiting” with somebody, with whom you share an intimate relationship, your ex-spouse will likely ask the judge to order a termination of alimony payments because your need has been reduced. You may disagree, but a judge will consider several factors to decide if the payee spouse is “cohabiting”. Some of them are as follows:
- Has intermingled finances with their new significant other
- Has shared responsibility for living expenses
- Discloses the relationship to family and friends, be it through social media or otherwise
- Lives with the significant other
- Splits up household chores with them
- Has received some form of promise of receiving support from the significant other
- Has been in a relationship for length of time
The reason behind this is simple. If a payee spouse is in a relationship that meets any or some of the above criteria, it is safe to assume that they are in a relationship with somebody who for all intents and purposes fills the role of a spouse. As a result, their financial need for spousal support diminishes, thereby allowing the payor spouse to cancel alimony payments.
- Cohabitation has very specific definitions and implications, and it is assumed to reduce the financial need to the payee spouse.
- If determined by a judge that a payee spouse is cohabiting with another individual, the courts will likely suspend or terminate alimony payments.
Unemployment and Alimony
A lot of the time, I find some clients who receive alimony payments asking me questions to the tune of, “What if my spouse stops working? How am I going to get alimony?” The answer is simple. The payee spouse is not going to receive alimony if their ex-spouse is not working. Regardless of what is in the agreement and what the law states, if the payor spouse is not working and does not have an income, there is no way to squeeze money out of them. There is no provision that permits the payee spouse to force the payor spouse to dole out money they do not have. I will advise you, however, to identify in an order of the court, when you get your judgment of divorce, to keep track of the arrears.
The reason behind this is because, if the payee is not getting support paid through the probation department, they must keep track of the arrears. It is important to understand what is owed to them; moreover, whenever payment is not received, a record should be made of it. I also advise my clients to notify their spouses via email or postal mail that they owe them a certain sum of money. That should be the payee spouse’s first step.
The second step is to confer with an attorney about enforcement options. Perhaps the payor spouse simply can no longer work in the environment because of genuine reasons. In such a situation, squabbling over the matter only results in legal fees. Instead, understanding how the payor spouse’s situation changed, talking to a layer about available options about how both parties can move forward from there goes a long way.
- If a payor spouse is no longer working, there is no way of extracting money from them that they do not possess.
- Make records of missed payments, the amount that is due, examine the change in circumstances and consult a lawyer with the objective of moving forward and making the best of the new circumstances.
If you have questions or concerns on the things you need to know about alimony, let our divorce attorney in New Jersey help you through the matter. Christopher Leon Garibian is experienced in helping residents through the ins and outs of alimony.
Christopher Leon Garibian, Esq. is a partner in the matrimonial and family law department of Weiner Law Group LLP. He has over 19 years of experience handling a multitude of Divorce and Family Law Matters throughout New Jersey. He is passionate about family law and takes pride in his ability to effectuate real change in the lives of his clients. He is certified by the State Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Attorney. If you are in need of an experienced Divorce Attorney or Family Law Attorney in NJ, contact us today for compassionate, long lasting legal solutions.