Two Sides Clash over NJ Alimony Bill

December 31, 2014

As reported by the DailyJournal.Com, talks over competing alimony reform bills are becoming as heated as the divorce fights they both aim to regulate.

A group proposing to overhaul New Jersey’s alimony laws says legislation proposed by the New Jersey State Bar Association to do the same thing would hamper actual reform needed in the state.

Representatives with New Jersey Alimony Reform and New Jersey Women for Alimony Reform claim their bill, A3909, which would provide guidelines on awarding alimony based on the length of the marriage, has been stalled since the recent introduction of legislation backed by the bar association.

“It (the bar association’s bill) doesn’t go anywhere near as far as where it needs to go. We believe it was a diversionary tactic on their part to try and stall reform in any meaningful way,” said Michael Turner, a lobbyist representing the two alimony reform groups.

The two organizations, which represent about 2,400 members, hope to get their reform passed before the end of the legislative session. They say the competing bill only benefits the bank accounts of divorce attorneys.

But Brian Schwartz, chairman of the bar association’s family law section, said the bill his group supports would reshape alimony while still being fair to both those who pay it and those who receive it. He said the alimony reform groups just don’t want to pay alimony anymore.

He said the bar association legislation, A4525, was written in part by matrimonial attorneys who represent clients on both ends of alimony, he said.

“Our bill is intended to give the reform that’s needed instead of arbitrary guidelines,” Schwartz said.

But the alimony reform groups said the guidelines in their bill are similar to those that are commonplace in other legal situations, such as child support, and help people going through the process know what to expect from the judicial system with a divorce.

Their proposal would provide the spouse with the lower income an economic bridge until that person can live independent of alimony.

Sheila Taylor of Ocean Grove, who is president of NJWAR, compared alimony reform to that of reforms to welfare and unemployment benefits, both of which are cut off after time.

“Why is there a private entitlement system called alimony? You can get it for the rest of your life,” said Taylor, who is ordered to pay her ex-husband $1,250 per month in alimony even though she said he is engaged to and living with another woman.

“There should be some onus on the individual recipient,” Taylor said. “You need to get a job.”

Taylor, whose alimony was based on her former income as a nurse, said she is in arrears because she now is on permanent disability and can’t get a modification despite trying five times. She said legal fees for each attempt range from $5,000 to $7,000, but she’s started representing herself because of the cost.

The alimony reform groups say they have incorporated two parts of the bar association-backed legislation into their proposal:

• The bar association’s bill would give judges better guidance on how to decide when to change alimony if circumstances like a job loss or health issue change for the former spouse who is paying it.

• It sets parameters for changing alimony when the former spouse receiving the payments tries to skirt the law by moving in with, but not actually marrying, a new romantic partner.

But the alimony reform groups disagree with a final provision of the bar association-backed bill, which also would give judges points to consider when the paying spouse wants a reduction in alimony because of retirement.

They said the provision essentially sets up “Divorce Round 2,” causing both sides to once again go into acrimonious proceedings with their former spouse. The presumption, they said, is that alimony should end at retirement.

But Schwartz said that the alimony reform groups’ proposal would “open Pandora’s box” because former spouses could potentially reopen their divorce negotiations to recoup other benefits they waived in exchange for alimony.

“Part of the problem when you have two people who want to fight, they’ll find a way to fight about it,” he said.