Open Duration Alimony vs. Limited Duration Alimony

Open Duration Alimony vs. Limited Duration Alimony

Open Duration Alimony vs. Limited Duration Alimony

When you go through a divorce in New Jersey, alimony may or might not be an issue that needs to be addressed. Alimony is not automatically ordered. Instead, either spouse can request it in the divorce case. The court might order the higher-earning spouse to pay alimony when there is a large difference in income, and the lower-earning spouse is financially dependent on their income to make ends meet. However, the judge is not required to order alimony and will instead only do so after considering several factors. One of those factors, the length of the marriage, can also determine the type of alimony that might be awarded and how long it will last.

If you negotiate a settlement with the help of a divorce lawyer in New Jersey at Ziegler Law Group, LLC, you might need to include alimony in your agreement based on your situation. It's important to understand the rules around alimony and the difference between open-duration and limited-duration alimony in New Jersey.

Understanding Alimony

Alimony or spousal support is a court-ordered series of payments from one spouse to the other. This type of support is typically only ordered when one spouse earns significantly more than the other spouse, and the recipient is unable to maintain their lifestyle without help. The following are the types of alimony that might be ordered in a New Jersey divorce:

  • Open durational alimony:Alimony without a set end date that is reserved for long marriages of 20+ years
  • Limited duration alimony: Alimony with a set end date that might be ordered for marriages lasting less than 20 years
  • Rehabilitative alimony: Alimony to help the dependent spouse complete college or a training program to acquire employment skills
  • Reimbursement alimony: Alimony to reimburse a spouse who supported the higher-earning spouse's career advancement (supported them through college, etc.) while forgoing their own career opportunities
  • Pendente lite alimony: Temporary alimony paid during a divorce until the final divorce decree is issued

While any of these types of alimony might affect your case, here's a comparison of open vs. limited-duration alimony in New Jersey.

What is Open Durational Alimony?

The New Jersey state legislature reformed alimony in Sept. 2014 by replacing permanent alimony with open-durational alimony. Before then, permanent alimony was fairly common. However, courts now can only award alimony in specific situations, and open-duration alimony is reserved for long-term marriages lasting a minimum of 20 years. The idea is that a spouse who receives open-duration alimony should have a significantly lower income than the other spouse or have remained at home and is unlikely to ever become financially self-supporting. Unlike permanent alimony, open-duration alimony will end when the payor spouse reaches retirement age unless the other spouse can present evidence showing why it should continue.

What is Limited Duration Alimony?

Limited-duration alimony has a set end date. The payor spouse makes payments for the number of months or years ordered by the court. It is meant to help the dependent spouse maintain their lifestyle and become financially self-sufficient. Limited-duration alimony might be ordered by the court when there is a significant income difference between the spouses and the marriage has lasted under 20 years.

Following the reform of the alimony statutes, courts have typically awarded limited-duration alimony for marriages lasting an intermediate length (10 to 15 years). When ordered, limited-duration alimony can't last for longer than the marriage's length, and the length of the marriage is the maximum term. For example, if a couple was married for 10 years, this means limited-duration alimony might last a maximum of 10 years. However, the court could order a lesser duration.

Open Durational vs. Limited Duration Alimony

Here's a look at the differences between open-duration and limited-duration alimony in New Jersey:

Duration of Payments

Former Gov. Chris Christie signed AB845 into law in Sept. 2014, which made substantial changes to N.J.S.A. § 2A:34-23. The law restricted the duration of alimony in most cases to last no longer than the length of the marriage. However, long-term marriages of 20 or more years could involve open-durational alimony, which is alimony without an end date other than the date the payor reaches retirement age (67 currently). All types of alimony also end when the lower-earning spouse remarries, enters a cohabiting relationship, or the payor dies.

If you believe that limited-duration alimony might affect your case, you can try to negotiate with your spouse. For example, if you've been married for 10 years and make significantly more than your spouse, you might need to continue supporting them after your divorce to allow them to maintain their standard of living. You could negotiate with your spouse for the length of the alimony and the payment amounts. For example, you might try to negotiate paying alimony for five years in an amount you can afford.

Many attorneys and courts start at one-half the duration of the marriage or consider when the youngest child will graduate from high school. They then consider the circumstances of both spouses when arriving at the duration of limited-duration alimony.

Modification and Termination

If alimony is ordered by the court, either spouse can ask the court to modify the alimony order when a substantial change in their financial circumstances has occurred. Some examples of when the court might agree to modify or terminate alimony include the following:

  • The payor spouse retires or has a desired retirement date
  • The payor spouse loses their job and is unlikely to replace their income
  • The recipient spouse begins cohabiting with a new romantic partner
  • The recipient spouse remarries
  • The recipient spouse begins to earn the same or more than the payor spouse

Alimony is supposed to automatically end when any of the following occurs:

  • The recipient gets married or enters a civil union
  • The payor dies
  • The alimony reaches the end of its term

If the recipient remarries or enters into a civil union, they must immediately notify the payor. If they don't, they might be ordered to pay the payor's court costs and attorney's fees if the payor has to go to court to terminate the alimony.

Impact on Payor and Recipient

It's important to note a couple of associated legal issues with alimony. If alimony is issued through a support order, it will not be dischargeable in bankruptcy. Even if the payor loses their job and can't afford to make their payments, bankruptcy will not eliminate back alimony amounts. The order will continue until and unless the payor seeks and receives a modification from the court.

There are also tax considerations for both the payor and recipient. Before 2019, payor spouses could deduct alimony payments on their income taxes, and the recipients had to report alimony payments as income. However, the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changed that. Anyone who has finalized their divorce post-2019 has different federal tax rules. Payors can no longer deduct alimony payments from their income taxes. Recipients no longer have to report alimony payments as income. If your divorce was finalized in 2019 or before, the old tax rules will continue to apply to you.

This only applies to federal income taxes. In New Jersey, recipients must still report alimony as income on their state tax returns. Payors are allowed to deduct alimony payments on their state income tax returns.

Speak to a New Jersey Divorce Lawyer About Open Duration Alimony NJ

If you believe that alimony will likely factor into your divorce, it's important to consult a knowledgeable attorney at the law firm of Ziegler Law Group, LLC. Call us today to learn about your legal options by calling (973) 533-1100.

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