Consideration Of Fault In Awarding Alimony in NJ

Alimony in New Jersey, sometimes called spousal support or spousal maintenance, is the support that one person pays to his or her former spouse in the event of a separation or divorce. The purpose of alimony is to limit the negative economic effects of the divorce to a spouse who either did not work or who earned lower wages than the other spouse. Alimony can also be awarded to allow a spouse to continue the standard of living that they had during the marriage.

Courts in New Jersey as well as other states generally have broad discretion in determining the particulars of an alimony award. If a judge does award it, they have discretion to determine the amount of support as well as for how long it is paid, though a recent bill (A845) was signed into law by New Jersey Governor 2014 that does place some limits on the duration of support payments.

In most New Jersey divorce cases the issue of marital fault (marital misconduct as the reason for divorce) is irrelevant to an award of alimony, though in some rare cases it can preclude a spouse from receiving alimony.

Marital Fault in Alimony Awards - Mani v. Mani (2005)

In Mani v. Mani, the New Jersey Supreme Court found two exceptions to the general rule that marital fault is irrelevant to an award of alimony. The exceptions are 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 exceptions are rare, but a recent New Jersey Appellate Division case details one such situation where the fault of one spouse precluded her from receiving alimony.

“Egregious Fault” in Awarding Alimony - Clark v. Clark (2012)

In Clark v. Clark the New Jersey Appellate Division found a rare case of “egregious fault” justifying its consideration in determining whether a spouse is precluded from an award of alimony. In Clark, a couple divorced after 28 years of marriage. Plaintiff (the former husband) was required to pay Defendant (his former wife) $600 a week in alimony. At trial, Plaintiff had proved that Defendant had secreted $345,690 from their joint business during their marriage.

The Appellate Division reversed the alimony award, based on the Defendant’s embezzlement of $345,690 from the business. The court said that the embezzlement caused more than mere economic impact on the marital assets, and demonstrated the rare case of “egregious fault.” Therefore it justified a consideration of whether defendant’s marital misconduct prevented an award of alimony.

While the Clark case presents a rare exception where a spouse’s marital fault prevents an award of alimony, the general divorce process and award of alimony are quite complex and fact-specific.

Convicted of Murder, Criminal Homicide, Aggravated Assault and Attempt or Conspiracy to Commit Murder

Under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23 a person convicted of aggravated assault, manslaughter, criminal homicide, or murder of a divorcing party’s family member may not receive alimony. Also, a person convicted of a conspiracy or an attempt to commit murder may not collect alimony from the intended victim of said crimes.

If you have any questions about alimony in NJ, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen at (201) 845-7400 for a free consultation

Sources

Mani v. Mani , 183 N.J. 70 (2005)
Clark v. Clark , 429 N.J. Super. 61 (App. Div. 2012)
New Jersey Alimony Statue – N.J.S.A 2A:34-23

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