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August 07, 2019

Alimony: the dominant post-divorce financial issue

Family Law Divorce

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During a marriage, couples work together to jointly support their household and each other. When a divorce occurs, that support may be formalized as alimony: a legal obligation by one spouse to financially support the other after divorce. While the length and amount of alimony payments may differ based on factors such as the duration of the marriage and income of the parties, alimony can often be a significant obligation, meaning it is essential to engage counsel in this area during divorce.

Drew A. Burach, Esquire, a partner at Archer, says that the payment and receipt of alimony directly impacts the day to day ability of each party to pay bills and expenses after divorce. As such, provides Burach, it is vital to have experienced and knowledgeable counsel when negotiating with the other side or appearing in court to address how much alimony will be paid and how long those payments will last.

Alimony is often confused with, but differs from, child support. Child support payments are payments due to the custodial parent of a child, solely for the care of that child. On the other hand, alimony is meant to provide ongoing support by one of the parties for the other after the conclusion of the marriage by divorce.

Alimony (also known as spousal maintenance or spousal support), is governed by statutes specific to each state. In general, the duration of alimony increases in relation to the length of the marriage; in certain instances, that length of the marriage may be a basis for an open durational term after the divorce. That means there are crucial differences depending on whether a divorce occurs in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or elsewhere.

Tara Hanna, Esquire, an associate with Archer, offers that although New Jersey and Pennsylvania alimony laws are materially similar, small differences may have large consequences. For example, unlike New Jersey, Pennsylvania courts can far more readily consider ‘marital misconduct’ when awarding alimony. More so, in New Jersey, absent limited circumstances, the court cannot direct a duration of alimony that exceeds the years of marriage for marriages under twenty years in length. Hanna further notes that New Jersey carves out special circumstances a court may consider, including if one spouse has a serious and long-term illness. These differences can have a significant impact on an alimony award and should be discussed with experienced counsel.

In Pennsylvania, alimony is governed by Title 23 Pa C.S.A. In addition to alimony, this statute covers temporary support after separation and while the case leading up to a divorce is pending. Courts are allowed to grant “reasonable” alimony to either party, upon evaluating relevant factors. These factors can include anything ranging from source of income, to marriage duration, or relative needs.

New Jersey alimony law is covered by the New Jersey Statutes 2A Section 34-23. New Jersey allows four kinds of alimony, including open durational alimony (paid without a defined end date at the time of commencement), rehabilitative alimony (short-term assistance often focused around education to begin earning an income), limited duration alimony (paid for a defined number of years), and reimbursement alimony (a specific monetary amount paid in consideration of prior support during pursuit of advanced education).

New Jersey generally considers similar factors as Pennsylvania in making the award, but specifically disqualifies those convicted of certain crimes from receiving alimony.

Like other issues settled during the divorce, alimony is a serious obligation with legal ramifications. Failure to pay alimony or quickly address changing circumstances can lead to penalties, loss of license, or even a warrant for arrest. If for any reason an individual is having difficulty with their payments, they need to contact their attorney immediately.

Alimony, like many other matters, must be settled during divorce proceedings. As stated by Burach, the decisions made at the settlement table or in the courtroom will have long-term effects for both parties; that’s why it is essential to have the right counsel during a divorce.