This is typically awarded as a result of a long-duration marriage or civil union where one party is economically dependent on the other or has financial need, and the other has an ability to pay support to maintain the level of lifestyle that existed during the marriage or civil union. Permanent alimony is a misleading title in the sense that it is open to modification by the court e.g. upon retirement or changed circumstances, so there is no guarantee that it will go on forever, only that when it is awarded, there is no time limit set on when it will expire.
Factors the court must consider in any alimony award
To award alimony, the court has to consider the thirteen factors set forth in the New Jersey alimony statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b). These include: 1) actual need and ability of the parties to pay; 2) duration of the marriage or civil union; 3) age, physical and emotional health of the parties; 4) standard of living established in the marriage or civil union and the likelihood that each party can maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living; 5) earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties; 6) length of absence from the job market of the party seeking maintenance; 7) parental responsibilities for the children; 8) time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment; 9) history of the financial or non-financial contributions to the marriage or civil union by each party..; 10) equitable distribution of property..; 11) income available from assets.
This is alimony that is typically paid for a short-term to enable a party to obtain economic self-sufficiency as a result of undertaking a training program, finishing education or obtaining necessary work experience. Rehabilitative alimony is paid for a specific purpose and is not about maintaining the marital lifestyle. An example of when it might be paid is where one party postponed their education to raise a family or support the other and now requires support to obtain education that will lead to gainful employment. Alimony payments cease when the dependent party has attained the ability to support him/herself. However, it is possible to have an award of both rehabilitative and permanent alimony e.g. where a party may still have low-earning potential even after a period of rehabilitation and the length of the marriage/civil union, lifestyle and ability to pay supports this.
Limited Duration Alimony
Recognizing that an award of permanent alimony might not be appropriate for short-term marriages, the New Jersey Legislature in 1999 amended the alimony statute to allow the award of limited duration alimony i.e. payment for a defined number of years. Courts may award limited duration alimony rather than permanent alimony to younger spouses who have good employment prospects and the ability to return to the workforce. However, if all the statutory factors in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b)(1) - (13) are equal, then the difference between whether permanent or limited duration is awarded comes down to the length of the marriage/civil union. Although it is rare, a court can award permanent alimony for a short-term or a mid-duration marriage/civil union, if appropriate.
This is awarded where there is a need for one party to pay back support for advanced education that was made in the expectation that it would generate economic benefits later in the marriage/civil union. An example of this is where one party supports the other while they undertake a professional degree program (law, medicine) and shortly afterwards the parties' divorce or dissolve their civil union. In this situation, an award of reimbursement alimony would compensate the party who helped the other to go through medical school for the fact that they would no longer gain the enhanced standard of living later in the relationship that they might have expected in return for their investment. Reimbursement alimony ends when its purpose is served i.e. when the amount specified has been paid. It is also possible for the court to award reimbursement alimony with other forms of alimony.
The concept of alimony is one that continues to evolve and reflect changes in society. We now live in a world where it is common for both parties to work, even while bringing up children. As the baby boomer generation retires, there are likely to be issues raised concerning the termination and/or reduction of permanent alimony awards. In the meantime, for those contemplating divorce or the dissolution of a civil union in New Jersey, each case concerning alimony has to be reviewed on the unique facts and situation it presents; an experienced attorney will be able to advise you on this.
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