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New Jersey Alimony Reform--"Not Just For Men"

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.

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/01/activists_work_to_introduce_bi.html

9 Comments

Thank You, Mr Weitzman for injecting a little common sense into the alimony discussion. I read your comments in the fox news article and I believe that the payers (men and women) must be given a chance to get their lives back. I personally know a man whose business is really hurting due to the economy and he has been unable to get his payments modified. The Judge told him ' go out and get 1 or 2 more jobs". Why should he have to work 3 or more jobs to support the EX? Isn't his freedom worth as much as hers? It is a sad commentary when a man doesn't have enough money to buy health insurance and his parents have to pay his dental bills because all the money is going to the ex wife to keep her "in the marital lifestyle" which was way above what they could afford. That was one of the reasons for the divorce but the courts punish him for her spending habits. Something must be done to help these men and women!!

I thank you for that reasonable approach that the abuse you withstand is going to be your own demise. Situations relayed by "Bea" is far more common than ought to be and the reason why there is such a strong support for alimony reform. Current laws, as you say prevail and until changed will continue to provide lifetime alimony as a crutch for any dependent spouse to lean upon. Lifestyles change during a marriage. The lifestyle change can be argued during modification, but is costly, ignored and unforgiven. Denials are devastating, emotionally and financially. It is good to see that you have attempted to enlighten those accessing your site to the fact that the law is not fair. Nonetheless, it is the law and one worth the effort putting forth to change.

I also thank Mr. Weitzman for his frank assessment of the problems with NJ alimony laws. His opinions are in-step with how many feel about lifetime alimony including Judge Jeanine Pirro of Fox News, and participants of Massachusetts study panel that wrote that states alimony reform law including Mass Bar Association President Denise Squillante, the chief justice of the Massachusetts probate court, and the American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers.

It is therefore extremely disturbing to read the opinion of another divorce attorney, Mr. Thomas Snyder, former Chairman of the New Jersey State Bar Association's family law section. Mr. Snyder is quoted in the January 12 Star Ledger article on alimony reform as saying "I don't think alimony laws are antiquated by any means". It is my opinion that Mr. Snyder is so completely out of step that one can only wonder about the factors on which his opinion is based.

Mr. Snyder does acknowledge that people have a problem with how the statute is applied, and suggests that the remedy is the appellate court. To this I ask, how is an unemployed alimony payer who has been bankrupted by alimony and legal fees for unsuccessful alimony modification motions to pay for an appeal?

The case stories of people who have been abused by NJ antiquated alimony laws abound. Just go tohttp://njalimonyreform.org and read some of them.

Thank you for a very well written blog, Mr.Weitzman, and for helping to correct a common misconception that only men are hurt by the current NJ alimony laws. New Jersey should ENCOURAGE INDEPENDENCE for divorcing couples. Alimony must serve as a transition to independence, not an “Award” and certainly not a lifetime entitlement. After all, a divorce takes place when two people no longer wish to remain in a relationship with one another. Having a long-term financial tie to an ex-spouse means that they are never truly divorced.

Personally, I dislike the very idea of alimony. But I understand that there are circumstances where a “hand up” (not hand-out) is needed. Term limited rehabilitative alimony is a fair compromise. Alimony set for a term just long enough to allow the alimony recipient to learn the skills necessary to become financial independent (ie – complete an associates degree, training, obtain work experience, etc) but not so long as to discourage independence or cultivate laziness or the feeling of entitlement. BOTH parties should expect to give up things they love and BOTH parties should expect to work harder. That is just part of creating a new life.

Thank you once again for helping to shine some light on this too often ignored issue.

Thank you, Mr. Weitzman, for your writing on this subject. As a payer of permanent alimony to a lazy, non-working former spouse, I strongly support the need to reform these laws. There simply should be no such thing as alimony for life! I am stuck paying forever in order to keep her in the "marital lifestyle" while she has no incentive to work. I will reach a point in my life where I will be paying her alimony LONGER than the actual marriage itself.
I recently saw a sweepstakes where the prize was "$1000 a week for life". Well, my ex won her own lottery of sorts, as she gets $300 a week for life.

Thank you for writing on this subject this has been hardship. I have to pay 500.00 a week for life thats half my take home salery. In other words I pay her mortgage plus.split my annuity, pension, and had to come up with money to by my house back 30,000. But in order for me to stay in my house l have a border to make ends meet. While the ex can work part time because im paying her bills. How can that be fare Thanks for your support.

Very well said Mr. Weitzman, your comments to the NJ Star Ledger are 100 percent dead on. I also am shackled with lifetime alimony to a person who continued her appeals through the Middlesex Family Court for over a decade, with her parents footing her legal bills, me losing and having to pick up her legal tab until I no longer had the funding or a job to fight her with an attorney. I was caught in the “Lifetime Alimony Legal Revolving Door”. I did take my appeal to the Appellate Court in Trenton as Pro-Se Litigant and found no remedy there Mr. Snyder. I can tell you based on my experience, after waiting 14 months for a decision (Nov 2009 – Jan 2010) I didn’t get any relief in a very unfair Judgment handed to by the Middlesex Superior court and no alimony reduction even though I had been out of work with proof that my home was in foreclosure. The Appellate Courts decision was like reading a form letter responding to someone else’s appeal.
To add insult to injury the Appellate Court remanded my plea for Alimony Reduction back to the Superior Court to have them reconsider my original request. I was dumfounded since this was the basis of my appeal to Trenton when the Middlesex Family Court denied my original appeal for alimony reduction.
How is it possible that Mr. Thomas Snyder, as former Chairman of the NJ Bar Association Family Section, being quoted in the NJ Star Ledger on January 12th that “I don’t think alimony laws are antiquated by any means” and that “remedy can be found there” meaning the NJ Appellate Court. No wonder the NJ Family Courts and Appellate Division are so log jammed with cases. I am sure if I consulted with Mr. Snyder in his office to represent me with my divorce, he would have many plaques hanging over his head in his office with many distinguishing awards alongside of his law degree.
I applaud Mr. Weitzman saying both woman and men “are being hurt by current alimony laws” and supporting change in laws that were created during much different times. New Jersey Lifetime Alimony Laws need change now!

Don’t let NEW JERSEY treat disabled veteran’s like Oregon treated Peter Barclay.
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States such as Massachusetts, West Virginia, California legislators, as well as other states, due to the changing realities of family life, either proposed or passed that ‘permanent current alimony’ obligations be eliminated in alimony reform legislation.
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Looking at these many State legislative proposals, and those ratified into law, one can only wonder, with all this legislative thinking going on, what happened? The subject of the disabled veteran’s VA disability compensation used as alimony, when is this alimony reform suppose to happen? This is something disabled veterans’ have tried to do for a very, very long time.
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In the past two years disabled Oregon veteran Peter Barclay went to both the Oregon Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court. Failing both, asking, “..whether states violate federal law when they allow divorce courts to count a veteran’s disability compensation in calculating spousal support?” As you will discover, as you read on, the law is quite clear as to a veteran’s rights and a state court judge’s improper judicial authority in denying protections that are guaranteed.
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This veteran had failed in his quest for something that Oregon legislators are now proposing, permanent alimony reform! However, any proposed legislation is discriminatory which completely ignores ALIMONY REFORM for disabled veterans. Unbelievably, this is exactly what disabled veteran Peter Barclay was seeking from the Oregon Supreme Court, as well as United States Supreme Court refusing to acknowledge his petition.
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It is time now to propose similar alimony reform legislation for disabled veterans. Disabled veteran’s have the exact same issue. However, correcting improper legal rulings imposed on disabled veteran‘s is the issue, as much as it is reform. Why now? For the reasons that follow, according to law.
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INFORMATIONAL COMMENT STATE COURT JUDGES
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38 USC 5301 Nonassignability and exempt status of benefits. "Payments of benefits due or to become due under any law administered by the Secretary shall not be assignable except to the extent specifically authorized by law,.. a beneficiary shall be exempt from taxation, shall be exempt from the claim of creditors, and shall not be liable to attachment, levy or seizure by or under any legal or equitable process whatever, either before or after receipt by the beneficiary.
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“It is well established that disability benefits are a protected property interest and may not be discontinued without due process of law. See Atkins v. Parker, 472 U.S. 115, 128 (1985); Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 332 (1976)”
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“Due process”. How is it, that state court judges can arbitrarily and capriciously award as alimony, with the mere wave of a hand, waive away a portion of a veteran’s VA disability rated compensation? Moneys in the form of disability compensation, the disability rights of a veteran, whose disability rating that maybe determined and factored in as critical? Judgment as if all disabilities are exactly the same. State court judges, are in reality, playing doctor, without medical license or knowledge .. a practice forbidden, providing penalties by law , and border on medical negligence. All without any input, or approval from the Veterans Administration. Overstepping those whose authority it belongs, the dedicated VA medical professionals, in the practice of medicine, re-evaluation, and rehabilitation of the veteran. While at the same time violating federal law, 38 USC 5301, 42 USC 1408, and the 14th Amendment.
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Ninth Circuit Says Congress, Not Courts, Have Say Over VA Health Care
VETERANS FOR COMMON SENSE v. SHINSEKI December 13, 2011
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Continually, State court judges disregard the law, as reduction in disability compensation cannot be “reduced unless an improvement in the veteran’s disability is shown to have occurred.” USC 1155 Authority for schedule for rating disabilities.
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How are judges allowed the discretion to award as alimony disability compensation based on 'statutory' awards? Which are not predicated directly on the average reduction in earning capacity, but primarily upon consideration of noneconomic factors such as personal inconvenience, social inadaptability, or the profound nature of the disability. The purpose of the statutory award for loss or loss of use of a creative organ is to account for psychological factors.
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“Clear and substantial” major damage to federal interests occurs when state court judges make lasting decisions, that seriously impact disabled veterans’ rated compensation and complicate Veterans Administration goals, and responsibilities. Upsetting, by overruling VA medical compensation decisions, which involve many hours of work that VA medical professionals have invested in the medical care, control, follow-up, and rehabilitation of disabled veterans. All this happens with VA complicity, when a state court, arbitrarily is allowed to take away a veterans VA disability compensation in third party alimony awards in violation of….. 38 USC 5301. 42 USC § 407 - Assignment of benefits, carries similar language.
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Where is it written, the VA authority, when a state judge can arbitrarily overrule the VA, the VA medical doctors and other medical professionals’ that determine a veterans’ medical rating compensation? His future now without the compensation that was by law assured? Tax payer monies mandated by Congress purposely, as veterans service compensation for injuries received, life altering as they are, now being diverted purposely by state courts to healthy third parties in many cases, in a determined and engaging violation of the law. To allow what has been happening, was it the intent of Congress that state court judges substitute their judgment for the judgment of VA doctors and medical professionals? I don’t think so!
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Where is it written? Will there be the same eagerness of legislators to extend this proposal and eliminate veterans disability compensation from alimony? Legislators, do the right thing now and fight for your disabled veterans. Because it’s the law!
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