Dear Cassie: My wife had an affair, and now that we are divorcing, she wants alimony from me! Do I have to pay her alimony?
New Jersey is a “no fault” state. What that means is that “fault” is not required to be able to get divorced. It is also not a factor in alimony and equitable distribution. Therefore, the fact that your wife had an affair is likely not going to be relevant in the court’s assessment of whether she is entitled to alimony.
Many years ago, parties could not even seek a divorce in the court if there was not a “fault” basis for the divorce (such as adultery, desertion, or extreme cruelty) or an extended period of physical separation. This changed in 2007, when the legislature added “irreconcilable differences” as a cause of action for divorce. This was a positive change to the practice of family law, as parties are no longer required to litigate how or why they got to the point of divorce, which facts have little or no bearing on the ultimate distribution of assets and assessment of support.
Similarly, our alimony and equitable distribution statutes (N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23 and N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23.1, respectively) do not recognize fault as a factor to be considered in establishing an alimony or equitable distribution award. Both issues are economic ones, which are assessed within the particular facts and circumstances of a family’s economic life. Particularly as it relates to alimony, the marital standard of living, a party’s need for support, and both parties’ ability to pay, incomes, and earnings capacities are usually the most critical factors in assessing the amount of alimony to be paid from one party to another.
There is one case in New Jersey which addresses the extremely limited circumstances under which a court could consider “fault” in an alimony case. That case, Mani v. Mani, 183 N.J. 70 (2005) holds that “marital fault is irrelevant to alimony except in two narrow instances: cases in which the fault has affected the parties’ economic life and cases in which the fault so violates societal norms that continuing the economic bonds between the parties would confound notions of simple justice.” These types of cases are extremely rare, and are the exception to the rule.
If you are dealing with the issue of alimony, you should seek the advice of matrimonial counsel.
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Cassie Murphy is a divorce and family law Partner with the Law Offices of Paone, Zaleski & Murphy, with offices in Red Bank and Woodbridge.