Alimony is a term that many recognize, but it’s often misunderstood. Also known as spousal support, alimony is financial support provided to a spouse under specific circumstances during and after a divorce. In New Jersey, there is no set formula for determining the amount and length of alimony payments, which can make estimating an amount complicated. However, having a better understanding of the factors that go into alimony calculations can set you up for success during discussions.
The Basics of the Alimony Calculations
When dealing with the financial uncertainties of post-divorce life, people often just want to know what to expect with an alimony request. However, determining eligibility, amount, and length of alimony is complex. There are many factors to weigh when assessing a potential alimony payment. Some of the most important include:
- The ability of the one spouse to pay
- The need of the receiving spouse
- Total income of both spouses
- Former standard of living
- Total length of marriage
- What each spouse contributed to the marriage
- What parenting duties were during the marriage and how they will be shared in the future
The length of the marriage is always considered, but there isn’t a length of a marriage that automatically creates an alimony obligation. The income of each spouse is also factored into alimony decisions. If both spouses earn approximately the same income, it is unlikely that alimony will be paid. However, if one spouse worked to put the other through school or to stay at home with children, this may be considered when making a determination.
Another factor that regularly comes up during alimony discussions is standard of living. Courts will look at the standard of living established during marriage and determine whether each party can maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living following the divorce.
Alimony Cases That Made an Impact
New Jersey alimony proceedings have been influenced by several cases. Crews v. Crews, 164 N.J. 11 (2000) addressed the consequences of excessive alimony. Alimony is intended to help the receiving spouse cover their expenses during this transitional time and get back on their feet. But what if the payor struggles to do the same?
Crews asked the court to modify alimony payments if the payor is unable to pay their own bills because of excessive alimony. The Supreme Court of New Jersey agreed that a person shouldn’t go broke paying alimony and payments should be reviewed if the payor is working more than one job to cover alimony costs.
Another common misconception about alimony is that if a spouse is faulted for the divorce, they’ll be unable to receive alimony payments. Mani v. Mani, 183 N.J. 70 (2005) changed this when the wife filed for divorce on the grounds of adultery and extreme cruelty. The husband responded by seeking permanent alimony. The courts determined the affair did not affect his earnings and therefore would not have an effect on the approval process of the alimony agreement.
There are many variables that affect alimony calculation, and that calculation may change in the future. The difference in income, the need for alimony, and the number of years the couple were married all have a large impact on the initial alimony calculation. Allowing one spouse to profit off alimony while the other goes into debt trying to pay that they can no longer afford due to a change in circumstances like loss of employment, disability, or retirement can result in a recalculation or termination of alimony.