Will I Be Forced to Pay Alimony Forever?
The payment of alimony is a major concern for many spouses thinking of getting divorced or already in the midst of it. In both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, a spouse can be required to pay alimony after the divorce is finalized. This means that you could be required to pay your ex-spouse a set amount each month similarly to child support. In both states, the courts consider a number of factors to determine whether a spouse is entitled to alimony and if so, how much and for how long. The factors can include the length of the marriage, the incomes of the parties, the standard of living during the marriage and the value of the assets each spouse received as part of the divorce.
New Jersey has historically been much more generous with entering long-term awards of alimony compared to its neighboring states. Up until September 2014, when the New Jersey Alimony Reform Bill was enacted, many spouses were ordered to pay alimony on a permanent basis. This often times led to a spouse paying alimony for periods longer than the length of the marriage. For example, a couple would divorce at the age of 40 after fifteen years of marriage, and the spouse might end up paying alimony for the next thirty years, even passed normal retirement age. Now with the Alimony Reform Bill, for any marriage less than 20 years, the total duration of alimony cannot exceed the length of the marriage. So the good news for those getting divorced now is that you will at least know there is a finish line to your alimony payments. Unfortunately for those already divorced and paying alimony, this new law only applies to those getting divorced after the Bill was passed. So if you were divorced prior to September 2014 when the Bill went into effect, you cannot retroactively ask for your alimony duration be reduced. The Bill also carved out “exceptional circumstances” for alimony payments to go passed the length of the marriage. Examples of these exceptional circumstances are whether a spouse has a chronic illness, whether a spouse gave up a career to support the career of the other spouse or if the spouse will be the primary caretaker of the children. You can read the entirety of the alimony statute at N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23. As this law is still new, there are many avenues to be explored as to what constitutes an exceptional circumstance.
In Pennsylvania, there is no bright line rule as to how long a party can be required to pay alimony. The rule of thumb though is one year of alimony for every three years of marriage. Keep in mind, this is not actually the law, it is just a guideline to be used as a starting point for negotiations and the courts. The amount of time a person could be required to pay alimony can change depending on the facts of the case. For example, a couple is getting divorced after twelve years of marriage and are both 35 years old. The spouse who would be receiving alimony has one year left on a post-graduate degree program with the potential to earn significant income afterward. In many cases, that spouse would be awarded alimony for four years (1/3 of their twelve-year marriage). However, this spouse will likely be self-sufficient after they graduate in one year and will then not need the additional support. So in this case, the spouse might only be awarded alimony for the period of time they are still in school. Even the county you reside in can affect how much and for how long alimony would be awarded, as the courts in the various counties in Pennsylvania view setting the amount and duration differently. The Pennsylvania alimony statute can be found at 23 Pa.C.S. Section 3701.
Since there are many factors that can affect alimony, you should consult with an experienced attorney to help guide you the process based upon the specific facts of your case.