By: Victoria Paone Rosa, Esq.*
Although acts of domestic violence have always factored into the child custody and parenting time analyses in New Jersey, domestic violence has not historically factored into the alimony analysis in this state. Currently, New Jersey family courts are required to consider fourteen delineated factors when calculating an alimony award, including but not limited to the financial need and the ability to pay of the parties. Recently, the New Jersey Assembly introduced and passed legislation, Assembly Bill No. 2668, which would expand the statutory factors governing alimony to include “whether either [spouse] has been convicted of a crime or offense involving domestic violence.”
If Assembly Bill No. 2668 passed into law, the family court would be authorized to “deny a request for alimony by” a potential alimony recipient convicted of a crime or offense involving domestic violence against the potential alimony payor. In addition, the family court would be given leeway to determine that a crime or offense involving domestic violence against the payor spouse constitutes “changed circumstances” for purposes of terminating or modifying an existing alimony award. Moreover, based on the proposed legislation, the family court would also have the power “to deny or modify an award of alimony for other bad acts.”
It appears that the primary purpose of the aforesaid bill is to only give economic relief to the alimony payor spouse should the alimony recipient be convicted of a predicate act of domestic violence such as assault, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, harassment, stalking, etc. against the payor. That said, perhaps an alimony recipient could seek a modification to increase alimony if the payor committed a “bad act,” in light of the text of this bill. Regardless of the intent, the application of this potential additional alimony factor remains unclear. For instance, would the family court risk a person becoming a public charge of this state by terminating their alimony award if that person was convicted of sending harassing emails to their ex-spouse? If so, would that be a fair result?
While the bill to add a fifteenth alimony factor has been passed by the Assembly, it will also need the approval of the New Jersey State Senate and the Governor. New Jersey residents who are going through a divorce will want to track the progress of this bill and its impact on alimony payors and recipients.
* Victoria Paone Rosa, Esq. is an associate at the Law Offices of Paone, Zaleski & Murphy working out of the firm’s Red Bank office, located at 120 Maple Avenue. Victoria limits her practice to divorce, child support, child custody, equitable distribution, alimony, domestic violence, palimony, and all other family law issues.