Gains in U.S. women’s economic independence since the 1970s has given millions the freedom to leave unhappy, abusive or irretrievably broken marriages. Alimony helped, though as women gained footing in the workforce, the expectation of extended or lifelong alimony diminished – despite the persistence of marked gender wage gaps.
Now, new reporting and analysis indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in financial hits and role shifts for many families, has made women especially vulnerable and increasingly reliant on their partners for economic support.
Data shows that:
- Women are losing jobs at a rate disproportionate to men.
- Even women who have stable employment are being forced to leave to care for children whose schools and daycares are closed.
- Many experts are predicting (and divorce lawyers already seeing) a wave of divorces.
These new dynamics plus reported rising divorce rates can make for a precarious situation for women facing a possible separation and divorce. This isn’t to say you should tough it out in a marriage that is toxic or clearly over. It does mean you’ll need a good attorney. As Freehold divorce attorneys, we’re expecting more claims for higher, longer-lasting alimony.
New Jersey’s Alimony Law
In the past, when gender income disparities were even greater, New Jersey allowed for permanent alimony. This is when one spouse pays another support for the entirety of their natural life or until the death of the paying spouse, whichever comes first. Permanent alimony was routine for marriages that were 15 years or longer and sometimes even for those wherein marriages were shorter in the case of extenuating circumstances.
This changed in 2014 when lawmakers reformed the New Jersey alimony law, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23. This replaced permanent alimony with something called open durational alimony. While there is no time frame placed on open durational alimony, the intention was that it would end at some point. This type of alimony can be terminated when:
- The paying party retires at their Social Security Full Retirement Age;
- The alimony recipient remarries;
- Either party dies.
Payors can also ask that alimony be suspended or terminated if the recipient is cohabiting with another person and comingling finances, living expenses or other assets.
Furthermore, in cases of a marriage that lasted less than 20 years, alimony can’t extend beyond the length of that marriage – except in the event of “exceptional circumstances.”
As our New Jersey divorce lawyers can explain, the circumstances thrust upon many wives and mothers as a result of the pandemic may qualify as exceptional circumstances. If a woman in the workforce has no choice but to leave her job or significantly cut her hours for a year or longer to take care of and/or educate the couples’ children, relying solely on her spouse for income, that could set her back significantly in terms of career opportunities, depending on her profession. If that situation is continuing at the time of the divorce, that could be grounds for asking for longer or higher-than-average alimony payments.
Alimony isn’t the only thing spouses who find themselves in this situation need to consider. Among others that can impact your long-term financial stability:
- The amount of a spouse’s Social Security to which one is entitled;
- Access to the spouse’s health insurance;
- Access to the spouse’s private retirement savings;
- Equitable division of key assets/their value;
- Adequate child support payments, including (if applicable) supplies for homeschooling, full-time childcare, etc. as well as extracurriculars.
In cases where the couple was already separated but one spouse has agreed to stay home with the children to provide education and/or care, modifications may be made to existing alimony and child support agreements because this would be considered a substantial change in circumstance.
We recognize that divorce can be financially difficult no matter what your circumstances. Our dedicated Freehold divorce lawyers will help you navigate these issues and advocate for the best possible outcome for you and your children.
Call Rozin | Golinder Law today at (732) 810-0034 to speak to our experienced New Jersey alimony lawyers.