How Much Alimony And For How Long-New Jersey Divorce Marital Lifestyle
As you can imagine as a practicing and experienced divorce lawyer and attorney in New Jersey, I often hear these New Jersey divorce related questions: How much alimony will I get or can I get and for how long? Or: Do I have to pay alimony and how much? Or: He or She cheated, do I still have to pay alimony to my wife/husband? Along with that comes: Can we make my spouse pay for your legal fees? These are just some of the queries I hear on a daily basis in consulations in my office whether it is for a Jersey City/Hudson County client, a Bergen County client, Essex County client or beyond. The same rules and guidelines apply statewide but alimony is based on a case by case basis, not a simple formula. I know this because for over ten years of divorce and child custody litigation in the various New Jersey State Family Courthouses I have conducted trials, hearings, motions and conferences to resolve matters. Some cases are much harder than others and require trials. The rest require alot of preparation and information exchanges, meetings and settlement conferences and talks to resolve the legal issues at hand. Lawyer fees can be oredred to be paid by the higher earning spouse too but you have to pay for a lawyer first and that lawyer will have to fight for lawyer fees to be paid or reimbursed. In order to resolve divorce cases in NJ, you need to prepare for every step of the way as if you try to cut corners, major details can be hidden or overlooked. In short, you get what you pay for.
I. How Much Alimony Must I Pay or How Much Alimony Can I Receive?
The key to how much alimony you can obtain through court order or settlement is largely based on what is called or considered the marital lifesytle.
II. What is Considerd the Marital Lifestyle in New Jersey Divorces?
For those who may have to pay alimony, you are going to hate this phrase over time, for those who may be paid alimony, you may like it a lot or a little. In the end, when a marriage is over, both sides have to make cuts for the new life, however the dependent spouse will usually live closer to the marital lifestyle than the person paying alimony. So the marital lifestyle is the life you generally lived while married. For example: cost of the home/apartment/condo you live in. The car or cars you drive, the restaurants you frequent, the clothes you wear/buy, gifts you give, hair salons you go to, the vacations you take, the cell phones you have, cable you watch, private schools, college costs and the like. The marital lifestyle is the life you live.
While the court will reference this term or the other party's attorney etc, those expenses will not be ordered post divorce but during the divorce a New Jersey Divorce Judge may order it after a pendente lite motion has been heard. For that reason, the pendente lite motion and case strategy early on needs to be spot on as it will set the tone for the entire case. The reason it sets the tone or the reason it is so important because if the one spouse continues to get used to the lifestyle or you need to keep it, you need the right court order for the right amount of money per month. For example if you need $12,000 per month for the household and you handle the pendente lite motion wrong and only get a court order for $8000 because of incorrect information or missing information, it will be hard to recover and hard to obtain a higher amount of alimony and child support at the end. Experience matters.
While there is no set formula for alimony in New Jersey Divorce cases, some practictioners use: The highest income earners income minus the lower/dependent spouse's income multiplied by 25% yields X. This is not the rule butcan give you an idea. There are cases that I obtained much more for clients than that calculation and there are times where I was able to obtain settlements/orders/verdicts of much less than that amount for the high earning spouse. The devil is in the details and you must prove or defend your alimony case, It is Not Automatic.
III. Adultery and Extreme Cruelty and the Unfortunate Irrelevance in Financial Decisions and Court Orders
You just read that section title and yes it is true in New Jersey Family and Divorce Court. It is hard for people to fathom the payment of alimony when someone is cheating or has cheated. It is hard to think someone that has been abused that alimony is not automatic and not considered a factor in alimony. The court does not get into adultery and extreme cruelty when dealing with financial awards/financially reated court orders. So if you think your spouse cheated and you do not have to pay alimony, it is simply not true. If you are ordered to pay alimony and your former spouse remarries or lives with someone else, alimony may be terminated, maybe. While a spouse cannot be punished financially for adultery, that spouse may pay a higher amount of alimony if it can be shown that he or she is spending lots of money in addition to the marital lifestyle.
IV. Before the Duration of Alimony is Discussed, Other Myths Must be Debunked or Discussed
Another conversation I have with clients or potential clients is about who pays what. Many high earners say, "I've paid everything for years, I made the downpayment, I paid everything and I can show it." Unfortunately for someone trying to limit or avoid alimony, the court will view that if you paid it in the past, you can keep paying it. For the dependent or lesser earning spouse, the more you can show all the payments being paid, the better. While a judge cannot force a dependent spouse to work, a Judge can inpute income as to what you can make in certain cases. I know this may not be what you want to hear (maybe or maybe not), it is the truth and I am upfront with all clients and potential clients in all matters.
V. Duration of Alimony
The duration of alimony is not set in stone either. In general the maximum time you can be ordered to pay is the total length of the marriage or open durational alimony (no set date to end). While it can be the length of the marriage, it is based on many factors so do not depend on that or think that it is a certainty, it is not. Factors include: age of parties, age of children (if any), assets available for equitable distribution, child caring responsibility, ability to earn over time to get back into the workforce and other relevant factors. In my divorce litigation experience I have seen alimony ordered at essentially 20% length of marriage and I have seen it at 100% duration and open duration too. Divorce court and divorce cases in New Jersey are fact sensitive and require attention to details. When you pay attention to details and show that a homemaker has been a homemaker for 10 years and not 2 years, it would help you obtain a longer term alimony award.
So in conclusion, alimony decisions by Judges or agreements are dependent on the facts of each case. The most important thing to know is that you have to make or defend your case in the New Jersey Family/Divorce Court. Having an experienced divorce litigator will only help your long term outcome. If you have are seeking to file for divorce or have been served with divorce papers for a NJ case, contact my team on 973-337-9643 or 201-706-3788.