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Group gains ground on alimony reform, seeks more changes

An organization known as New Jersey Alimony Reform has been lobbying for changes to the laws surrounding spousal support in the state for some time now. There are two bills on the table right now that have aroused both advocates and opponents of reform. If passed, the landscape of family law may find itself altered.

The advocacy group believes that the award of lifetime alimony is unfair. By citing cases in which many payers -- often men -- are forced to pay spousal support sometimes decades after the divorce, the organization has gained many supporters. In some cases, individuals are paying alimony after they have retired or become disabled to former spouses that have never had a job. In others, the downturn in the economy cost payers their jobs and they have been placed in jail because they can no longer pay the support they once could.

According to the founder and director of the group, one member has been jailed more than 20 times due to his inability to pay.

State tax return records show that in 2009, 25,000 out of 280,000 divorced spouses paid approximately $535 million in alimony. This translates to more than $21,000 on average for payers that year. A professor of family law at Rutgers Law School said that one study estimated that 97 percent of payers are men.

Advocates have already managed to see some change. The Senate and Assembly judiciary committees released a bill that would allow courts to modify alimony payments if the payer has been disabled for more than six months or has become unemployed. Other life changes are accounted for in the bill, as well.

New Jersey Alimony Reform, in addition to seeking changes now, wants to see a commission established that will recommend comprehensive changes to support laws. Opponents worry that if this commission is not balanced, the system may become more advantageous to the payer than the recipient.

Source: Springfield Patch, "For Better or Worse, NJ Looks at Divorce and Alimony," Adam Bulger, June 8, 2012

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