September 15, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
It’s only a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. Last Wednesday, Governor Chris Christie signed a bill to reform New Jersey’s very out of date alimony laws. Of course divorce lawyers resisted with every fiber of their beings, but the bill received strong bi-partisan support in the state legislature. Here’s one article on the subject (Washington Times, 9/11/14).
The new law has a short reach. It confines the duration of an alimony order to the length of the marriage as long as it’s under 20 years. Marriages longer than 20 years that end in divorce can still result in permanent alimony for the lower-earning spouse. The law also permits greater leeway in modifying alimony orders, for example, if the paying spouse is unemployed longer than 90 days. Except in unusual circumstances, payers will not be required to pay past the usual age of retirement, i.e. 65 or 66. Alimony will now be considered “transitional,” meaning that recipients will be expected to seek and obtain gainful employment.
In short, the bill is a half measure that, in our usual democratic process, satisfies neither reform advocates nor divorce lawyers seeking to maintain their own cash flow and their comrades in arms, radical feminists seeking to maintain the maximum cash flow from men to women. It’s nowhere near what it should be, but it’s better than nothing.
Where we should be regarding alimony is that it should be nearly non-existent. As I’ve said before, we live in a society that, right or wrong, considers all adults to be capable of working and earning a living. And there are essentially no impediments to anyone’s doing so. Given that, no one should get a free ride. No one, solely by dint of a temporary marriage that can be dissolved for any or no reason, should be able to goldbrick even for a short time. Yes, there should be a period during which one spouse is able to retrain for employment if that’s necessary, but that shouldn’t be longer than a couple of years. And some form of alimony is appropriate if one former spouse is too old and/or infirm to work and earn. But beyond that, the concept of equality between the sexes demands an end to outdated notions like alimony.
People need to be responsible for their own actions and if one spouse opts out of the workforce, then he/she — not the other person - needs to bear the consequences of doing so.
And let’s not forget that existing alimony laws discourage marriage. They do so by warning particularly men at the outset that, if their contemplated marriage fails, they’ll be on the hook paying someone they no longer like potentially for the rest of their lives. And of course once one ex starts receiving alimony, he/she may shy away from remarriage because to do so would mean the end of the gravy train.
Then there’s the fact that alimony essentially means indentured servitude for the payer. As Massachusetts alimony reform advocate Stephen Hitner explained,
Outdated alimony laws need to be fixed “throughout the country,” said Stephen Hitner, the lead advocate for Massachusetts’ alimony reform who is now a divorce mediator and consultant in Marlborough, Massachusetts.
After Massachusetts passed it into law, the attorney said that an 80-year-old, alimony-paying man wrote him to say, “Thank you. I can finally retire,” and a couple were free to marry because now the second spouse’s income would not be included in the alimony calculus.
The National Parents Organization of course was instrumental in passing the alimony reform legislation in Massachusetts Hitner referred to.
As a general rule, alimony should be abolished altogether as an artifact of times long gone by. The lawyers and radical feminists won’t like it when that happens, but the rest of us will rejoice. The New Jersey law is far from where we need to be, but it’s a couple of steps closer.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
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