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New Jersey Family Part Judge Offers Interpretation of New Alimony Law

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In 2014, New Jersey amended its laws on alimony. These amendments affected the court’s calculations of not only long-term alimony, but also alimony that lasts only through the divorce trial itself, known as “pendente lite relief.” Courts are still grappling with how these laws should be applied to actual divorce cases. One recent opinion from New Jersey Family Part Judge Lawrence Jones is an example of the sort of result that future divorce litigants might expect when applying for pendente lite relief.

The case titled Malek v. Malek centered on a couple who had been married for four years when they filed for divorce in 2016. The wife was unemployed at the time of the divorce, but the court determined that she was capable of earning $20,000 annually as a hairdresser. The husband worked as a teacher, earning roughly $90,000 a year. The parents shared custody of their children. After filing for divorce, the wife made a request for pendente lite relief, seeking an amount of support that would put her in a similar position financially as she was in during the marriage. The husband countered that, after the divorce, he had no additional income in his monthly budget to afford to support his wife.

Prior to the 2014 amendments to the laws on the calculation of pendente lite relief, courts would primarily seek to ensure that the supported spouse was able to maintain their prior standard of living during the divorce. “The focus would frequently tend to be on the needs and budget of the supported spouse, with comparatively less focus on the financial needs of the supporting spouse. An analysis which only considered the needs of one party, however, could leave the other party with little or no money to afford any type of similar reasonable lifestyle at all,” Judge Jones wrote in his opinion.

The 2014 amendments resulted in two major changes, according to Judge Jones; namely, that the maintenance of the marital standard of living is no longer the court’s primary concern, and that a court should consider both spouses’ right to maintain their existing standard of living when deciding an amount of pendente lite relief. Additional new factors in a pendente lite relief calculation include the spouses’ costs and increased living expenses associated with establishing separate residences after the divorce. According to Judge Jones, these factors should receive equal consideration when designing pendente lite relief.

As a result of these revised considerations, Judge Jones noted that it may not be possible for spouses to maintain their prior lifestyle after filing for divorce, especially where the spouses were not living within their means during the marriage. The judge’s job, he reasoned, might be to determine an “interim economic arrangement” which was fair to both spouses. The judge ruled in this case that both husband and wife would need to reconsider the monthly budgets and living expense projections they had submitted, as well as new employment options, in order that the existing income could be fairly distributed between the spouses.

For assistance with a New Jersey divorce or custody dispute, contact the compassionate and knowledgeable Englewood family law attorneys at Herbert & Weiss for a consultation, at 201-440-6300.

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