Opinion: N.J. alimony reform bill is a first step, not an endpoint

Former Assemblywoman Joan Quigley’s guest opinion “Coming up with changes to New Jersey’s alimony reform was like going through a divorce” (Aug. 12, nj.com) portrays reformers as bitter, disgruntled and complaining that the bill does not lift our individual alimony burdens. The reality is that, as a grassroots organization, not an established trade association, we advocated for reforms to benefit the general public as well as our alimony-paying members. During the course of our nearly three years of public advocacy, we received a first-rate education about the legislative process and the art of the politically possible. Let it be clear that we fully endorse the bill awaiting the governor’s signature and urge him to sign without delay, but only as a first step toward modernizing New Jersey’s socially obsolete family laws.

The bill on the governor’s desk is far less than initially proposed in our bipartisan comprehensive reform legislation sponsored by Assemblymen Charles Mainor, Sean Kean and Troy Singleton. It lacks prohibitions for alimony payments to those who have committed acts of domestic violence. It lacks guidelines for an amount of alimony that is fair and reasonable consistent with the unwritten “rule of thumb” that is used by attorneys throughout the state. Despite these and other deficiencies, the leadership of NJ Alimony Reform/NJ Women for Alimony Reform believes that the bill is the foundation for greater reforms, which we are confident will occur as our movement continues to educate leaders in the Statehouse and the general public about the gross inequities of the current alimony system.

Massachusetts, largely considered as the model for legislative reform across the nation, took more than a decade to pass meaningful alimony reform. Still other states, such as Connecticut, Oregon and Colorado, have progressed more incrementally and so far have enacted only portions of the Massachusetts model alimony reform package.

Some members of our advocacy group remain greatly disappointed in the pending bill. Their opinions are valid and must be respected. These are mostly individuals who have suffered due to ambiguous laws, an overburdened judiciary that proceeds largely without statutory guidance and some unscrupulous lawyers skilled at gaming both without regard for the well-being of their clients. Alimony reform advocates are not acting in self-interest, nor are we embittered about the bill or our experience in Trenton. We would rather take incremental improvement for the moment with the opportunity to continue the dialogue on alimony reform in a considered manner.

Original article