How Exactly are Alimony Awards Determined?
Just in case you were wondering, there is no magic formula when it comes to alimony awards. In an article last week, we shared information concerning the different types of alimony in New Jersey. However, you may wonder how determinations are actually made by the court.
Actually, some litigants come up with their own agreements regarding alimony payments. In those cases, the proposal becomes part of the Marital Separation Agreement (MSA) and is submitted for judicial approval. That said, nothing is actually set in stone. A change in circumstances may warrant a trip back to the courthouse for an increase or decrease in spousal support.
In New Jersey, alimony awards are based on a few factors as described in NJSA 2A:34-23 (b). The most obvious is the actual need for the support payments, as well as the party’s ability to pay. Simply put, a husband or wife might think alimony is critical to their survival. However, there must be evidence that the higher earning spouse can actually afford to make payments.
No doubt you may wonder how the court decides on necessity and ability. The process begins with a review of the Case Information Statement (CIS) submitted by both parties involved in a divorce. Meanwhile, you should know that completing the form is a requirement.
Unfortunately, you may feel quite overwhelmed filling in the details on the CIS. You’ll need to supply information concerning your income, your spouse’s/partner’s income, a budget of your joint lifestyle expenses, as well as a budget of your current lifestyle expenses including the costs allocated for your children. If you have no idea about the state of your finances, this form can be a real eye-opener.
Other Factors in Determining Alimony
In the meantime, there are other relevant factors in determining whether alimony is even considered. First, it’s critical to tally the duration of the marriage. Ten years is no longer a special number. There is no such thing as permanent alimony anymore. Open durational alimony awards generally require that the couple has been married for twenty years with limited exceptions.
There are actually many more considerations when it comes to discussing the feasibility of alimony. (Just to be safe, one of these is a blanket statement that leaves it up to the court to decide what’s relevant.)
How Will These Questions Get Answered?
A breakdown of the additional factors includes ascertaining answers to these questions:
- How old are each of the parties seeking divorce or dissolution?
- Is either of the parties suffering from physical or mental health conditions?
- What was the standard of living before the divorce complaint was filed?
- What is the likelihood that each of the parties can maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living? Does it appear that either the husband or wife will have a greater entitlement to that standard of living than the other?
- How do the earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties compare to one another?
- Has one of the parties been out of the job market? If so, how long?
- How are the parental responsibilities for the children divided?
- How long will it take for the party seeking maintenance to acquire sufficient education or training to find appropriate employment? What will cost? What about the availability of the training and employment?
- Is there an opportunity for future acquisitions of capital assets and income?
- What is the history of the financial or non-financial contributions to the marriage including contributions to the care and education of the children and interruption of personal careers or educational opportunities?
- How was equitable distribution of property ordered and any payouts on equitable distribution, directly or indirectly, out of current income?
- Does either party have income available through investment of any assets they hold?
- What are the tax treatment and consequences to both parties of any alimony award, including the designation of all or a portion of the payment as a non-taxable payment?
- Did the court already order alimony before the divorce decree was signed? What is the nature, amount, and length of pendente lite support paid?
These are important questions that will be reviewed in determining alimony awards. We mentioned that parties may motion the court or changes in payments after finalization of a divorce. Look for more on this topic later this week.
At the Law Offices of Anthony Carbone, we help clients who are confronted with the steps necessary to end their marriage. Contact us to schedule an appointment for complimentary advice concerning your particular situation.