New Jersey lawmakers being pressed for fairer alimony

There are many family law experts in New Jersey who subscribe to the view that the state's system for determining alimony, or spousal support, is not all it could be. As it stands now, judges have generally broad latitude on whether alimony should be granted in New Jersey divorce cases. They also make the call on how much and how long that alimony should be paid.

For those who have to pay, the cry is that the judge's wield too much discretion and that high payments of long duration discourage breadwinners from trying to better their economic situations. Meanwhile, those on the receiving end can be heard saying that judge's too often set payments so low, and for such a short period of time, that the beneficiaries wind up suffering unduly.

About the only thing both sides do agree on is that they want limits on judicial discretion. That would seem too argue for some sort of set formula, which is what the state legislature is working to develop. So what's the problem?

Many family law experts find that every marriage and every divorce is different, which makes creating a one-size-fits-all formula that works for everyone difficult. They say someone's is almost always going to feel they got the short end of the stick.

Back in June, the New Jersey Assembly acted. It voted unanimously to create a commission to study the issue. The measure has moved to the Senate and is still hanging. It's unclear what is likely to happen next.

In the meantime, people are suffering. With a divorce rate that is estimated to run in the 50 percent range, it's hard to imagine that there isn't an argument to be made that this stands as a potentially significant political issue.

Proponents of change in the legislature say economic realities dictate that something has to give. They say the current practice of allowing permanent alimony should be restricted and that easy adjustments in payments should be available according to fluctuating financial circumstances on both sides of the equation.

Striking the proper balance is what is apparently being sought. At some point perhaps it will be achieved. Until then, the system is what the system is and divorcing New Jersey couples will need to navigate that system to resolve their splits. Doing that with the aid of experienced legal help is strongly advised.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, "New Jersey struggles with the knotty issue of alimony reform," Joelle Farrell, Aug. 19, 2012