You may have heard that the concept of permanent alimony is somewhat passé in New Jersey. In fact, we previously wrote about the issue here. Nonetheless, some older court orders still make allowances for lifetime alimony. That’s not to say they are written in stone and can’t be contested at a later date.
First and foremost, you should be aware of the law that transformed awards for permanent alimony in New Jersey. A 2014 law changed the terminology entirely. Since then, the nomenclature has become “open durational alimony.” NJSA 2A:34-23 contains the statutory language regarding all alimony awards.
In most cases, only those who have been married more than twenty years may qualify for an open durational alimony award. This means that the court can terminate long-term spousal support upon consideration of a change of circumstances.
Nonetheless, some divorce decrees contain language regarding what would constitute a termination of permanent alimony awarded prior to 2014. In some cases, remarriage or death were the sole reasons that an application to end spousal support would be entertained. Learn how one alimony recipient appeared to circumvent termination of his spousal support.
Will Permanent Alimony End for this Recipient?
This legal opinion comes from the New Jersey Appellate Division. Since it is an unpublished decision, it is not considered precedential. Therefore, it only applies to the parties involved in the case. Nevertheless, it offers some insight into what someone might do to avoid losing spousal support.
Let’s start with some background about the parties as discussed in the court’s opinion. William and Cheryl Sloan were married in June 1990. Although their divorce concluded in 2014, it was before alimony laws changed in New Jersey.
The Sloans entered into a settlement agreement that became part of the final divorce order. The agreement included Cheryl’s obligation to pay William $400 per month in alimony. This amount would continue until William died or remarried. Subsequently, the alimony payments began on April 1, 2015.
The Definition of Remarriage
A little more than six months after the permanent alimony began, William entered into a civil commitment ceremony with his girlfriend. Notably, the two did not apply for or secure a marriage license for the event. Without a doubt, a marriage license would confirm that William had remarried.
Notwithstanding, there were other factors that seemed to imply that William was remarried. For one, the civil commitment officiant pronounced the couple as “husband and wife.” Additionally, the couple made social media posts about their union. In one case, William even said he was “marrying his best friend.” In another, the female partner indicated she was having dinner with her husband.
When confronted with the allegations of his remarriage, William refuted them. He provided documentation from the officiant that confirmed that the civil commitment ceremony was only for the couple to be seen as “married in the eyes of God.” There was a further notation that the two had not and would not obtain a marriage license.
In fact, the officiant performing the ceremony further confirmed her understanding of the couple’s union. She provided a certification indicating that she did not “"see, receive, handle, transmit, sign or deliver any marriage license for the commitment ceremony.”
Once Cheryl learned of these circumstances, she returned to court. Cheryl requested termination of her alimony obligations based on William’s remarriage. The trial judge ruled in favor and indicated that William and his partner had “done everything to be married except for issue the certificate [sic] in an attempt to avoid losing alimony.” The court further indicated that the actions appeared intentional. As a result, the alimony payments were terminated.
The Importance of the Marriage Certificate
As a consequence of losing alimony payments, William appealed the opinion of the lower court. He argued that NJSA 37:1-10 clearly states that a marriage is not valid unless the parties have obtained a marriage license.
For this reason, it did not matter that the new couple referred to themselves as husband or wife. It was of no concern that the officiant in the civil commitment ceremony named the “husband and wife.” Without a marriage license, there was no remarriage.
Based on the foregoing, the Appellate Division determined that the spousal support obligations were improperly terminated. William had neither died nor remarried.
Notwithstanding, the appeals court remanded the case back to the trial court. Since the new couple was living together, there was a chance that their finances were intertwined. This might constitute a change in circumstances. As a result, it was appropriate to request a modification of the original alimony award.