Limited duration alimony in New Jersey

In Cox v. Cox, the Appellate Divison extensively discussed the legislative amendment that added limited duration alimony as an option:

Limited duration alimony is not intended to facilitate the earning capacity of a dependant spouse or to make a sacrificing spouse whole, but rather to address those circumstances where an economic need for alimony is established, but the marriage was of short-term duration such that permanent alimony is not appropriate. Those circumstances stand in sharp contrast to marriages of long duration where economic need is also demonstrated. In the former instance, limited duration alimony provides an equitable and proper remedy. In the latter circumstances, permanent alimony is appropriate and an award of limited duration alimony is clearly circumscribed, both by equitable considerations and by statute.

[335 N.J. Super. at 476.]

Limited duration alimony is thus awarded in recognition of a dependent spouse’s contributions to a relatively short-term marriage that demonstrated attributes of a “marital partnership.” Id. at 483. Both limited duration and permanent alimony reflect the policy that marriage is an economic and social partnership and that the financial and non-financial contributions of both spouses should be recognized. Id. at 479. “All other statutory factors being in equipoise, the duration of the marriage marks the defining distinction between whether permanent or limited duration alimony is warranted and awarded.” Id. at 483.

In recognizing the need for limited duration alimony, the Legislature focused “‘upon the economic impact of the marriage on the parties by examining whether employment opportunities were lost or career opportunities delayed.'” Id. at 481 (quoting Report of the Commission to Study the Law of Divorce, Recommendation 13 at 46-47 (April 18, 1995)). It was contemplated that a court would determine whether

“any economic dependency that might exist between the parties was created by the marriage or was the product of the parties’ disparate skills and educational opportunities, unrelated to anything that happened during the marriage. The court’s inquiry would focus not on the fact that the parties were married but upon the impact of the marriage on the parties . . . . [and on] whether either of the parties were economically disadvantaged by child-rearing responsibilities for children of the marriage.”

[Ibid. (quoting Report of the Commission, supra, Recommendation 13 at 46-47).]

The Divorce Study Commission found that limited duration alimony was not intended to be a replacement for permanent alimony “‘where the length of the marriage and the contributions made by the dependent spouse are significant. In particular, it is singularly inappropriate in long marriages.'” Id. at 482 (quoting Report of the Commission, supra, Recommendation 13 at 47 (footnote omitted)). The Commission was of the “unequivocal view” that limited duration alimony “should be limited to shorter marriages and not be ordered in long-term marriages.” Ibid.

In Gordon v. Rozenwald, 380 N.J. Super. 55, 61 (App. Div. 2005), this court had the opportunity to consider the purpose of limited duration or term alimony in the context of a motion to modify the term alimony provision of a negotiated matrimonial agreement. The parties had been married fifteen years at the time of the final separation and had two children. Id. at 61-62. At the time of divorce, the agreement negotiated by the parties contained a fifteen-year term alimony provision. Id. at 62. During the marriage, the husband was financially successful and the wife did not work. Ibid. Following dissolution of the marriage, the husband’s earnings soared. Id. at 63. Although the wife worked, the earnings of the parties were grossly disparate. Ibid.

We observed that “[l]imited duration alimony is available to a dependent spouse who made ‘contributions to a relatively short-term marriage that . . . demonstrated the attributes of a marital partnership’ and has the skills and education necessary to return to the workforce.” Id. at 65-66 (quoting Cox, supra, 335 N.J. Super. at 483. We noted that such a spouse is not entitled to permanent alimony because the commitment to the marital enterprise was not sustained and the period of economic dependency was not prolonged. Ibid. We also commented that

[t]he premise for a term of limited duration alimony under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23c is primarily historical not predictive and it is not based upon estimates about financial circumstances at the time of termination. Thus, the end date of a term of limited duration alimony is the equivalent of an arrangement to terminate support at a predetermined time or event, regardless of need.

[Id. at 68.]

In Cox, supra, we held that limited duration alimony was not appropriate following a twenty-two year marriage. 335 N.J. Super. at 469-70. There, the wife was employed during the marriage and eventually enrolled in law school, passed the bar, and obtained a position as an associate in a law firm. Id. at 470. The husband earned substantially more than his wife throughout the marriage. Ibid.

In the course of this opinion, we sought to distinguish the four forms of alimony authorized by the Legislature: permanent alimony, limited duration alimony, reimbursement alimony, and rehabilitative alimony. Id. at 476. As to limited duration alimony, we said:

Limited duration alimony is not intended to facilitate the earning capacity of a dependent spouse or to make a sacrificing spouse whole, but rather to address those circumstances where an economic need for alimony is established, but the marriage was of short-term duration such that permanent alimony is not appropriate. Those circumstances stand in sharp contrast to marriages of long duration where economic need is also demonstrated. In the former instance, limited duration alimony provides an equitable and proper remedy. In the latter circumstances, permanent alimony is appropriate and an award of limited duration alimony is clearly circumscribed, both by equitable considerations and by statute.

[Ibid.]

We also instructed trial judges to consider the underlying policy considerations that distinguish the forms of alimony when the judge must fashion an appropriate alimony award. Id. at 479. We concluded saying that “[p]ermanent and limited duration alimony, by contrast, reflect the important policy of recognizing that marriage is an adaptive economic and social partnership, and an award of either validates that principle.” Ibid. Limited duration alimony provides flexibility for those situations when no alimony or permanent alimony would be unjust. Id. at 480.

The “defining distinction” between permanent and limited duration alimony is the length of the marriage. Id. at 483. Here, the judge referred to various periods that the parties were together, ranging from slightly more than seven years (from date of marriage to date of separation) to ten and one-half years (from date of cohabitation to date of filing of complaint). The judge correctly referred to the marriage as one of neither long nor short duration, although the term is decidedly closer to being considered one of short duration. See Hughes v. Hughes, 311 N.J. Super. 15, 31 (App. Div. 1998) (ten-year marital relationship cannot be considered short-term by today’s standards). We also agree that a marriage of intermediate duration may justify alimony particularly when one of the spouses was financially dependent on the other spouse for all or a substantial part of the marriage. Id. at 33. Financial dependency, however, does not dictate an award of permanent alimony in all instances.

Both permanent and limited duration alimony serve the same goals and are designed to enable the supported spouse to maintain a lifestyle reasonably comparable to the one enjoyed while the family was intact. Steneken, supra, 183 N.J. at 298-99. In the case of limited duration alimony, however, the court makes a determination, based primarily on the length of the parties’ marriage and the spouses need for support. It is not based on predictions of financial circumstances at the time of termination. Gordon, supra, 380 N.J. Super. at 68.

The decision to award permanent rather than limited term alimony in this case seems to have been predicated on plaintiff’s inability to ever earn enough income to maintain the marital lifestyle on her own. In certain situations this is appropriate. See Robertson v. Robertson, 381 N.J. Super. 199, 207-08 (App. Div. 2005) (thirty-nine year old woman who surrendered employment opportunities entitled to permanent alimony after twelve-year marriage); McGee v. McGee, 277 N.J. Super. 1, 14-15 (App. Div. 1994) (fifty-seven year old unskilled and unemployed woman entitled to permanent alimony after relatively short-term marriage but economic dependence commencing prior to the marriage). This factor, however, is relevant only in the determination of the length of the limited duration alimony. In fact, to treat the time needed for the recipient to improve her earning capacity as anything other than a factor to determine the appropriate term of the alimony award, obscures the difference between rehabilitative and limited duration alimony. Cox, supra, 335 N.J. Super. at 481. In this particular case, because of defendant’s very high earnings and the comfortable lifestyle the parties enjoyed, the judge’s assessment that plaintiff will probably never be able to achieve that lifestyle on her own is undoubtedly correct. Given the unique facts of this case, however, a permanent alimony award is not appropriate.

If you are looking to get limited duration alimony in your NJ divorce case, call the team of tough, smart Ocean County Alimony Lawyers today to discuss your case.

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Posted on January 31, 2010, in Articles and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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