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NJ's Antiquated Alimony Law

Kristen Houghton

Tuesday, January 7, 2014 • 7:27am

The strength of women when faced with untrue and unfair laws can be phenomenal. In November of 2012, NJ Women for Alimony Reform, WAR, was founded by Sheila Taylor. Ms. Taylor created the organization in response to statements from the NJ Bar that current alimony laws exist to protect women and children. Her personal experience taught her how bogus these statements actually were.

Sheila Taylor knows from harsh firsthand experience how a cruel and cunning ex-spouse can work the alimony system to his advantage. She pays alimony to a man who abused her for over twenty-five years, was an addict, a mean alcoholic and a cheat. When he left her for another woman she thought her misery at his hands had ended but she was in for a nasty surprise.

Her ex may not have been able to physically and emotionally abuse her but he found another way to hurt her and, surprisingly, it is all legal. Since her salary as a nurse was significantly higher than what he made, she was ordered to pay him alimony. Despite the fact that he is openly living with another woman, (his engagement was even posted in the newspaper), despite the fact that he has bragged about never getting married so as not to lose his 'spousal' support, the alimony payments continue. Living with another woman, whose salary no doubt benefits him, is not enough to stop the payments.

The State of New Jersey needs proof of 90 days of cohabitation to reconsider the ruling on alimony. The responsibility for this type of costly surveillance would fall to Ms. Taylor who is already going broke paying alimony. It is a Catch-22.

And it doesn't end there. It seems that despite becoming permanently disabled two years ago and living on SSI and a pension, a court has decided that her income is still higher than his and she must continue to pay! There is no end in sight.

Sheila Taylor is not alone; there other stories. Kimberlee Jasinski., a 47-year-old business owner has been ordered to pay her ex-husband, a fit, healthy 58 year-old retired golfer, thousands per month in temporary spousal support. There are no children from this marriage and no, her ex did not help her create nor did he fund, her business.

During their marriage he outright demanded more and more money from her to live the lifestyle he wanted. She alone supported the marriage and that lifestyle.

Marilyn Henricks, a teacher, was shocked to learn from her lawyer that should she divorce her husband of 19 years, one of the assets he could claim would be fully one-half of her pension upon retirement. This, despite the fact that he has a decent paying job albeit one without a pension.

The present "lifetime" alimony, aka spousal support, system in too many states with all its inequities needs to be replaced with a system that addresses the present day reality of those who know how to "work the system", men as well as women.

New Jersey might be well-advised to take a look at a proposed revision to the alimony laws in Florida. That provision states that: "In any proceeding for the dissolution of marriage, the court may grant alimony to either party for which alimony may b e considered rehabilitative in nature. In no circumstances shall alimony exceed three (3) years in duration." SB 718, approved by lawmakers by an 85-31 vote, would end permanent alimony, cap alimony awards based on one spouse's income and the length of the marriage and make it easier for an ex-spouse to terminate or lower alimony payments upon retirement. It also gives parents equal custody of any children in the marriage.

In many cases, some help is justified and necessary to provide financially rehabilitative support to a deserving former spouse. But, and this needs to be said loudly and clearly for all to hear, "not for a lifetime." That is unreasonable in this day and age.

One fact that needs to be clarified is that alimony and child support are separate forms of support. Both parents are legally and morally responsible for the support of any child from their union. You are divorced from each other not from your child.

A growing number of states are considering laws that would generally end permanent spousal support. Instead, they would create formulas to determine the amount and duration of awards. Some proponents of alimony-law reform are seeking to make the elimination of permanent alimony retroactive.

The proposals have triggered heated debate: payers who criticize what they call unjust and outdated awards are pitted against family law attorneys who say the measures are punitive to women. Any law which forces a woman or man to support, for life, an ex-spouse is in, and of, itself abusive and an invasion of your private rights because it creates a state of peonage and enslavement for the rest of your life.

How is this fair? Simply stated, it isn't and it needs to be changed. Many consider lifetime alimony an antiquated "divorce leftover" from a period of time when few women had an advanced education or worked outside their home. They had no real job prospects or means of support except alimony. In an era when 40 percent of women out-earn their husbands and wield economic power there has to be some type of legal fairness. Fair distribution of marital assets, fair, justifiable, and limited financial support for an ex-spouse can benefit all concerned.

But not everyone plays by the rules. As men set their sights on women's earnings, women have become more protective of those dollars. In fact, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 44 percent of attorneys included in a recent survey said they've seen an increase in women asking for prenuptial agreements over the last five years, where in previous decades, prenuptial agreements were almost always sought by men.

The word law is described as "a binding custom or practice of a community: a rule of conduct or action prescribed or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority." We have the right to expect our laws to be fair and unbiased. Alimony was established for a specific purpose in a time when it was a necessity. Like all laws it needs to be reviewed and revamped as times and society change. © 2014 copyright Kristen Houghton

 The Guest Column is our readers' opportunity to write about a given issue or topic in an in-depth and educational manner.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TheAlternativePress.com or anyone who works for TheAlternativePress.com. TheAlternativePress.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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