The Permanent Alimony Battle in New Jersey

Everyone hopes for their marriage to succeed, but unfortunately, sometimes it just doesn’t go that way. When a marriage does end in divorce, some ex-couples negotiate a plan for alimony payments, or “spousal support,” to pass from one party to the other. Pre-nuptial agreements, which are optional to make prior to weddings, can also lay out alimony blueprints in the event of divorce. In most states, ex-spouses are given the legal option to waive their right to receiving alimony payments. But in New Jersey, alimony is mandatory — and it’s permanent.

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Alimony Laws in New Jersey

Alimony was never designed nor intended to be punitive. The purpose of alimony is simply to let former spouses maintain a standard of living that is roughly approximate to what they were accustomed to during their marriage. Therefore, it seems logical that payments should only flow in certain ways. For example, in this purportedly non-punitive context, it makes very little sense for the spouse with less money to have to fork over cash to a spouse who is living quite well. From a perspective of sheer human respect — respect that reasonable, consenting adults can make their own decisions — it makes even less sense that someone financially stable, who would like to waive their own alimony rights, cannot legally be permitted to do so. It is arguably a perfect case of a “nanny state” stepping on divorced toes across New Jersey.

Of course, some New Jersey residents are happy with the current spousal support legislation — about 9% of them, according to NJAR. NJAR, or New Jersey Alimony Reform, is a group “promoting respect, independence, and equity for the parties to divorce.” It’s NJAR’s stance that permanent alimony is an outdated throwback to the 1940s and 1950s — when New Jersey’s alimony laws were drafted — at a time when women were hardly expected to be climbing the career ladder. It is also NJAR’s stance that, in addition to being demeaning to women, permanent alimony laws are financially devastating to men, who by law could very feasibly be forced into making decades of payments.

But then, NJAR is a reform group with a cause — perhaps they are biased. Are there any cases where permanent alimony has had profoundly negative effects to back them up?

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Missed Alimony Payments Leading to Incarceration and Debt

The United States has one of the most expansive and heavily-populated prison systems in the world. As of 2011, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics counted some 2,266,800 inmates across the country. Is there really room for people who wouldn’t be “criminals” under other sets of circumstances?

That’s what happened to Ari Schochet. Schochet, a New Jersey resident, was married for seventeen years. Now he is divorced, in and out of prison, and drowning in debt. Schochet’s alimony obligations alone are in the neighborhood of $78,000 per year — that’s more money than most full time jobs net — and under New Jersey law, there’s no end in sight. Schochet lamented to Bloomberg, “I’m in a system that’s working totally off the wheels. The hopelessness of it all is that I don’t have the money to fight.”

As of late 2013, Schochet has been in and out of prison a whopping eight times for failure to pay court-ordered spousal support. Referring to Schochet, perhaps ABA Journal says it (or asks it) best: “Is jailed former portfolio manager a poster-child for alimony reform?

If you need a divorce and family law attorney in New Jersey to discuss alimony, child support, or any other aspects of a terminated marriage, contact Maselli Warren online, or call (800) 891-2657 today.