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Determining Alimony in Mid-Length Marriages
How is alimony determined in a mid-length marriage?

There are four different types of alimony; permanent alimony, rehabilitative alimony, reimbursement alimony, and limited duration alimony. The specifics of each type of exhaustively discussed in my other articles on this website. A key issue in many divorces of mid-length marriages is whether a dependent spouse should receive a limited duration alimony award, or a permanent alimony award. To many people a permanent alimony award is considered a "life sentence." I have even had a case wherein a payor was unsuccessful in having his alimony obligations reduced/terminated based on the grounds of retirement. My client was 86 years of age. The main point is that permanent alimony can haunt you for the rest of your life!

When was limited term alimony created?

Limited term alimony was created in 1999. Before the creation of limited duration alimony in most mid-length marriages, most judges awarded the dependent spouse a permanent alimony award. The seminal case was Hughes v. Hughes, 311 N.J. Super. 15 (App. Div. 1998). In the Hughes case, the bright line rule was that in most ten year marriages the dependent spouse was awarded permanent alimony.

What is the current status of New Jersey law as it applies to determining alimony in mid-length marriages?

In my experience, in the majority of most mid-length marriages, the courts are now only awarding limited duration alimony and not permanent alimony. A review of recent case law conclusively proves that there is a strong judicial trend to limit the length of alimony in most mid-length marriages.

  • Christopher v. Christopher, WL1918080 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2009). Here, the court held that a nine-year marriage did not deserve a permanent alimony award.
  • Dubois v. Brodeur, 2007 WL 2012387 (N.J. Super. App. Div.). Here, the Appellate Division reversed and remanded a trial judge's award of permanent alimony. The court noted that limited alimony should only have been awarded.
  • Heinl v. Heinl, 287 N.J. Super. 337 (App. Div. 1996). Here, the Appellate Division reversed a permanent alimony award. The wife was only thirty-four years old, and it was a seven-year marriage. The court held that this marriage as too short for the wife to receive a permanent alimony award.
  • Schwartz v. Schwartz, 2005 WL 2861023 (N.J. Super. App. Div.). In the Schwartz case, the Appellate Division remanded the Trial Court's award of permanent alimony to a thirty-seven-year-old wife. The court further held that it was a short term nine year marriage. Finally, the court noted that a limited duration term of alimony was more appropriate than permanent alimony.
  • Valente v. Valuente, WL169294 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2009). Here, the court held that a wife in an eleven year and nine-month marriage did not deserve a permanent alimony award.

In summary, there is a clear judicial trend to be stingy in determining the length of alimony in mid-length marriages. I always advise clients to make any reasonable financial concession(s) to avoid having a permanent alimony obligation. Moreover, given the conservative approach that most judges have been taking in awarding alimony, a litigant should be very weary of agreeing to a permanent alimony award in a mid-length marriage.

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