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Dirty Tricks in Divorce Mediation - Spousal Support/Alimony

Spousal support is by far the most hotly contested item discussed during mediation sessions. Here in New Jersey, there are no guidelines to help us calculate spousal support and instead we have a series of "statutory factors" which provide general guidelines how alimony is determined. Unfortunately, with that latitude, comes difficulty in determining what an appropriate number would be and so difficulties arise and the games begin. Areas to be aware of include:

  • Imputing an unrealistically high income number to a non-working spouse - In today's economy, even skilled workers are having difficulty finding employment and wages are lower than they used to be. It is especially difficult for a spouse who stayed home to raise the children to now enter the workforce after a number of years away and expect to make what they "used to make." Be realistic about your job prospects and income potential when discussing what an acceptable support number would be and don't be bullied into taking the first offer nor be unrealistic about what that job you used to have 15 years ago will pay now. To combat this, I say "show me the numbers" and use the Bureau of Labor Statistics Wages by Area and Occupation Database to determine what a realistic starting or average salary would be for your particular profession. Then you'll at least have something real to go on.

  • Expecting your spouse will take care of you - spousal support is supposed to help supplement your income and provide both of you with a roughly equal standard of living to each other post-divorce. Notice I didn't say "the same standard of living that you had while you were married you will also have post-divorce." Be realistic as 2 households are more expensive to run than one and each spouse will be expected to contribute based on their skills and ability. If your spouse expects the alimony to cover 100% of their monthly expenses, there may be an issue depending on skills and ability to work. The solution? Do a budget separating out your expenses and the kids expenses. The number in the "adult" column is the number that work + support needs to equal. How you get there is up to the two of you.

  • Forgetting insurance - so you work out this great support arrangement and your ex is very generous and gives you 99% of what you need to live and then....they pass away. Guess what? Alimony stops unless you have life insurance on your ex. Seems odd I know but not discussing this during mediation is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Or worse yet, your ex is disabled and unable to work but very much alive. Do they have disability insurance? Talk about these things upfront to avoid unpleasant surprises later on and don't let someone say "oh I have insurance through my job" because in this economy, the prospect of losing one's job and with it one's life and disability insurance, is quite real.
A marriage is both an emotional as well as economic partnership and when it breaks apart, no matter what your opinion on the need for spousal support is, it's always best to work it out among yourselves instead of letting the courts decide. Be realistic, compromise and understand that both parties must do their part post-divorce to support themselves in the long run as alimony is not long term solution in most cases.

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In order for permanent alimony to be awarded in New Jersey, the marriage must have lasted at least 10 years and one spouse must have become economically dependent on the other. This type of alimony allows the obligee to maintain the lifestyle to which he or she has become accustomed for the duration of the obligor's lifetime (unless the obligee remarries).
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