In a recent interview with the Star Ledger newspaper, I told the reporter that it is not just men who are being hurt by the current alimony laws, but women also. I think there is a misperception amongst the general public that the current outcry to change alimony laws is to help men. What I tried to get across to the Star Ledger reporter in our recent interview was that in my practice, I see just as many high-income earning women being hurt by our antiquated alimony laws as men.
Our alimony laws were created when economic times were substantially different than today. In current times, it is very common for both parties to work and contribute to marital expenses. Under current law, fault in a marriage is generally not a factor to be considered for alimony. If one person (man or woman) works hard each day to support the family, and the other is simply lazy and does not work or contribute to the marriage, the person who worked hard can be penalized at time of divorce and the lazy person rewarded with alimony-regardless of gender. When I share this information with prospective clients during initial interviews the most common response is that "we fought about him/her not working all the time". The problem is if parties fight about one person not working and contributing, but allow it to go on over time, it makes no difference for alimony purposes. The "marital standard" for alimony purposes is established.
Similar injustices occur with credit card spending. Even if money is not available due to one party not working, and one party spends above his/her earnings by running up credit card debt, the credit card debt can be considered part of the marital lifestyle increasing an alimony award. Again, regardless of gender, one party ends up paying for the irresponsible spending of the other.
Additionally, marital fidelity is not a factor when determining alimony. As such, despite one party fully supporting the other during the marriage, if the other party decides to simply leave the marriage for someone else, he or she is generally still entitled to alimony, regardless of fault.
While I hope that alimony laws are reviewed and changed, it is important for anyone who is earning more than his or her spouse, and contemplating a divorce, to realize that under current laws time is generally not on your side. If you are earning more than your spouse in a marital relationship, and contemplating ending that relationship, you must realize that the longer you allow "bad behavior" to continue in a marital relationship, the greater the risk is that the other party will receive support or alimony at time of the divorce. This is true regardless of gender, or whether the "bad behavior" involves overspending, failing to work or contribute to the marriage, or marital infidelity. If you find yourself in such a situation you should consult a qualified divorce attorney without delay.
In my opinion New Jersey alimony laws need to be reformed to address these types of injustices. However, until they are anyone contemplating divorce should be aware of just how economically dangerous these laws can be today.