2014 Revision To The New Jersey Cohabitation/Alimony Law Has Leveled The Playing Field For Those Paying Alimony
Over the years I have had conversations with many friends and colleagues who were paying Alimony to an ex-spouse, the stories related to me that just simply did not seem fair as explained. For instance, I had one co-worker who was paying a significant amount of permanent alimony to his wife in a system that seemed to be designed to inhibit the person receiving the alimony to actually get on with their life. After all, if you were in a position where you had become divorced from your spouse after a marriage of fifteen years or so and the court awarded permanent alimony of fifty thousand to one hundred thousand dollars for the rest of your life, what would you do? Would you be in a hurry to cohabitate with another man or woman if to do so would result in the loss of this substantial amount of alimony money? Would you fall in love and marry another person if to do so meant the loss of your substantial alimony award? Unless you are some sort of saint the answer to these two questions would most probably be a resounding no!!! Often it is not the fact that you are a bad and needy person; it is just that the system of alimony in many instances has inhibited the independence and potential personal growth of the recipient of the monthly alimony award, which I have often heard described as having possession of a winning lottery ticket.
It has been my experience in my thirty-five year career in the Jersey City Police Department and more recently my second career as a New Jersey Private Investigator that many persons become very dishonest about their living arrangements after they have become recipients of alimony. In my career on the police department I climbed through the ranks until I attained the rank of Police Chief of an eight hundred plus department. The stories of deception I would hear from colleagues as well as many of those I had supervised were stunning. The officers would relate to me of how their spouse would actually be cohabiting with their significant other while he/she was receiving alimony. Furthermore, I was told that this ex-spouse would stop at nothing in order to create a perception that he/she was not actually cohabiting with another, these deceptions would include but not limited to:
1. creating a perception the cohabiter lives with another family member, friend or some other person; the cohabiter may register their vehicle, place utilities and such at this relatives or friends home while in actuality they were truly residing with the recipient of the alimony award, or
2. parking the cohabiters vehicle either in the garage of the ex-spouse’s home or even parking their automobile a significant distance from the home.
3. often the cohabiters would mask their cohabitation by contributing untraceable cash to the home of the recipient of alimony, all of this and more to protect this alimony.
4. many times the alimony recipient would enlist the aid of the couples minor children in order to deceive the paying parent, the list goes on and on.
All of these examples make it difficult for a New Jersey Private Investigator to secure evidence during an Alimony/Cohabitation Investigation which if successful would reduce or even eliminate alimony.
MULTIPLE INSTANCES OF UNFAIRNESS IN THE OLD ALIMONY/COHABITATION LAW
I am aware of some bizarre and obviously unfair situations that many of my colleagues and friends had been subjected to over the years with respect to Alimony Awards, such as:
1. A spouse who was awarded significant alimony while at the same time the payee possessed the knowledge, skills and ability to make a good living in their own right. In fact, many of these ex-spouses were recipients of large permanent alimony awards and actually began making more money than the person who was paying the alimony.
2. Police officers are in defined benefit pension plans that are very often targeted as assets subjected to distribution in divorce proceedings. Stated another way, a court will often consider the analysis of an actuarial in order to determine how to divide the officers pension upon his retirement. I have known many officers who have not only had a portion of the pensions taken from them but have also been ordered to pay significant fixed permanent alimony.
This unbalance in the system has often resulted in the ex-spouse who is already receiving a substantial amount of alimony then to receive a substantial raise in income upon the retirement of the person that is paying the alimony. The flip side of this coin is that in many cases the retired officer would now be making substantially less money per year while the alimony recipient has a much more lucrative yearly income when combining his/her portion of the pension that had been previously awarded as fixed permanent alimony, how can that be fair?
Prior to the 2014, Alimony/Cohabitation revision a group that had been pushing hard for a more “level playing field” with respect to the Alimony/Cohabitation Laws, the group published a lengthy but and disturbing piece of literature titled “Shattered Lives- the personal horror stories of marriage and divorce in New Jersey”, (re; link below).
NEW JERSEY STATE LEGISLATURE LEVELS THE PLAYING FIELD
In New Jersey in 2014, the Alimony/Cohabitation Laws of the State were significantly altered by the New Jersey State Legislature and subsequently signed into law. As always the law still provided for the modification or suspension of alimony if it is found that the payee of alimony is cohabiting with another. In September Of 2014 Eric S. Solotoff and Eric A. Epstein of Fox Rothschild A Top New Jersey Family Law Firm Authored A Very Informative Article Succinctly Breaking Dow The New Alimony Reform Law, For My Readers Convenience I have provided a link to the article https://www.foxrothschild.com/publications/new-jersey-enacts-alimony-reform-bill/
However, the definition of cohabitation was significantly altered in order to level the playing field for the payer of alimony, and in my opinion actually will help the recipients of alimony begin to move on with their life and become less dependent on the receipt of alimony. Cohabitation is now defined as “mutually supportive, intimate personal relationship in which a couple has undertaken duties and privileges that are commonly associated with marriage or a civil union but does NOT NECESSARILY MAINTAIN A SINGLE COMMON HOUSEHOLD. This is a huge change in the definition of cohabitation, it is no longer a given that as long as the receiver of alimony has a “significant other” who has their own home it will ipso facto be presumed they live together, now numerous other factors will be balanced to gain a picture of the totality of the circumstances. A court will now consider among other circumstances the amount of time the alimony payee’s significant other actually stays with him or her. Other factors to be considered are:
1. Does the couple have joint finances together, such as checking accounts, savings accounts or maybe even brokerage accounts? Does the couple own a car together and maintain a joint car payment, do they own a vacation time share? As you can see there are many financial factors that will need close examination.
2. Does the couple pool their money together in some fashion in order to pay their living expenses?
3. Do the couple’s family circle view the couple as family without the traditional marriage nuptials and license? Does couple go to each other’s families holiday celebrations, Thanksgiving, Christmas etc…
4. Does the couple share in household chores?
5. The court must also consider the length of the relationship when considering it’s decision.
But the most important change to the cohabitation/alimony laws in New Jersey has been the fact that: “A court may not find an absence of cohabitation solely on the grounds that the couple does not live together on a full-time basis”.
As you can see, the cohabitation/alimony laws in New Jersey have become less one sided and permanent alimony is essentially not even permitted in most circumstances. I personally think this is a good thing, not just for the fact that it is the right thing to do for the payer of alimony but it removes the inhibitions that the recipient of alimony has in order to move on with their life instead of remaining static and fearful of losing what has very often been described as a winning lottery ticket.
Revision to the New Jersey Cohabitation/Alimony Law has leveled the playing field for those paying Alimony
About the author: Bob Cowan is the owner of Cowan Investigations a full service New Jersey Private Investigations Firm, Bob is the former Chief of the Jersey City Police Department and has 35 years experience as a police officer in New Jersey’s second largest municipality.
If you wish to speak with me regarding this article, or if you need a consultation regarding it’s contents please do not hesitate to call me at 732-837-8444, seven days a week 8:00am to 8:00pm.