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How Long Must a Marriage Last For a Spouse to Obtain Permanent Alimony?

I have been married to my husband for eleven years. We are now getting a divorce. The key issue that prevents us from reaching a settlement is the issue of alimony. I am insisting that I receive a permanent alimony award, and my husband insists that I should only receive a term of limited duration alimony. Are my demands reasonable, or should I just settle for limited duration alimony?

In the recent opinion in Valente v. Valente, an award of permanent alimony to the wife was reversed. The case was then remanded back to the family court court for the entry of a judgment of a divorce that with only limited duration alimony and not permanent alimony.

In the Valente case, at the time of filing of the divorce complaint in 2004, the parties were only married for 11 years and nine months. Both parties were in their early forties and had three children aged eight and eleven. In the three years prior to the divorce, the husband earned a very high income, and it averaged out to $323,000 per year. Meanwhile, while the wife was a homemaker, and she only had a high school education. She previously only earned $24,000 a year. The coupled enjoyed a high-end lifestyle during the marriage.

The Appellate Division in this case viewed the length of marriage as the determinative factor to assess whether permanent alimony or limited duration alimony should be awarded. The Valente court opined:

In deciding whether an alimony award should be permanent or of limited duration, the trial judge must consider the length of the marriage in context with the other statutory factors including the recipient spouse as principal caregiver of the children, the health of the parties, prolonged economic dependence, income disparity, education and work experience of the recipient spouse.

The Valente opinion fails to explain in what way the family court judge, who heard ten days of testimony, failed to make any appropriate findings of fact or did not properly consider the statutory factors required by N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b). Therefore, the Valente holding only provides scant guidance on how to view intermediate marriages that fall in the grey area between permanent and limited duration alimony. Finally, the Appellate Division further concluded:

In our view, alimony of limited duration is appropriate in this case. The marriage of eleven years and nine months was of intermediate length. Considering plaintiff's age and intelligence as well as the fact that her children are both of school age, we see no reason why she cannot obtain employment within a reasonable time, and an award of limited duration alimony will give her incentive to do so.

In summary, it can be extremely difficult to reach any type of settlement if there are contentious issues as to whether permanent or limited duration alimony should be awarded. Every case must be decided on an individual basis, and there is no magic case, or bright line rule that will answer your alimony questions or disputes your individual case. All of the alimony factors must be assessed to make this decision.

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New Jersey has five types of spousal support. Rehabilitative alimony is a short-term monetary award that allows a spouse to go back to school or obtain training to re-enter the workforce. Limited duration alimony is awarded in cases of a short marriage when rehabilitative alimony doesn't apply. Reimbursement alimony is awarded when one spouse makes a personal sacrifice so that the other spouse could receive professional or career training. Alimony pendente lite is awarded when a divorce is pending so that both parties can maintain their current standard of living until a final judgment is made. Finally, there is permanent alimony which is usually appropriate in long term marriages and typically terminates upon the death of either party or remarriage.
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