The law Christie just signed applies mainly to future divorces, though it does allow a “rebuttable presumption” that alimony payments will end once the ex-spouse paying them reaches the "full retirement age” of 67.
Among its other major changes:
• For marriages that lasted fewer than 20 years, the length of alimony payments cannot exceed the length of the marriage unless a judge decides there are “exceptional circumstances”
• Judges would be able to end payments if the recipient lives with a partner, even if they don’t get married.
• Judges would be able to lower payments if the payer has been out of work for 90 days.
• The term “permanent alimony” would be replaced with “open durational alimony."
Christie did not comment on signing the bill.
Advocates of overhauling the alimony system had been split on whether to support the bill.
Thomas Leustek — founder of New Jersey Alimony Reform — said it’s an “about-face” for New Jersey, even if doesn’t go as far as he’d like it to.
“I’m overjoyed that he signed the bill, because it turns the existing laws of alimony completely around,” Leustek, a plant biology professor at Rutgers, said in a phone interview.
Leustek said the biggest change is that the elimination of a presumption that alimony should be permanent.
“The prior law ... has what I refer to as the permanent first doctrine. A judge would have to explain why permanent alimony was inappropriate if they decided to award some other kind of alimony. Imagine that,” Leustek said. “Now we have a bill that completely changes that. It says alimony duration is no longer than the length of the marriage, and has an ultimate stop date at retirement age where alimony is presumed to end.”
But others who favored alimony reform argued that the legislation didn’t do enough to help current alimony payers. Stuart Meissner, who ran for U.S. Senate last year to promote alimony reform, told the Senate Judiciary Committee in June that any new alimony law should rely more on formulas to give judges less discretion.
“Judges are not supposed to be making the law. This body is. You have everything in reverse,” Meissner said at the time.