judgment was entered in that case prior to the enactment … lawyer

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T he newly revised alimony statute became effective on Sept. 10, 2014. This article addresses the question of whether cases ‘in the pipeline’ should
be resolved in accordance with the new alimony statute,
even if a ruling or judgment was entered in that case
prior to the enactment of the new statute. One Supreme
Court case has addressed “pipeline retroactivity” in
criminal matters, noting “application best balances
principles of fairness and response.”1 Essentially, pipeline
retroactivity renders the new rule “applicable in all future
cases, the case in which the rule is announced, and any
cases still on direct appeal.”2 In descending order of
breath of their effect, from the narrowest to the broadest,
the shorthand hierarchy of categories is purely prospective,
pipeline retroactivity, or full retroactivity.3 Admittedly,
the cases dealing with pipeline retroactively are mostly
criminal cases and land use cases. However, as detailed
below, certain matrimonial cases have addressed pipeline
retroactivity.

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In the civil context, pipeline retroactivity of a new
rule or law contemplates that three classes of litigants
will be beneficiaries: those in all future cases, those in
matters that are still pending, and the particular successful litigant in the decided case.4 The bedrock principles
of decisional law retroactivity were spelled out in State v.
Knight, a case involving criminal procedure:
This court has four options in any case in
which it must determine the retroactive effect
of a new rule of criminal procedure. See State
v. Burstein, 85 N.J. 394, 402-03, 427 A. 2d 525
(1981). The court may decide to apply the new
rule purely prospectively, applying it only to
cases in which the operative facts arise after the
new rule has been announced. Ibid. Alternatively, the court may apply the new rule in the
future cases and in the case in which the rule is
announced, but not in any other litigation that
is pending or has reached final judgment at the
time the new rule is announced, but not in any
other litigation that is pending or has reached
final judgment at the time the new rule is set
forth. Id. at 403,427 A. 2nd 525. A third option
is to give the new rule “pipeline retroactivity,”
rendering it applicable in all future cases, the
case in which the rule is announced, and any
cases still on direct appeal. Ibid. Finally, the
court may give the new rule complete retroactive effect, applying it to all cases, including
those in which final judgments have been
entered and all other avenues of appeal have
been exhausted, Ibid.5

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Applying the above principles to matrimonial cases,
the Appellate Division in Johnson v. Johnson6 stated,
[t]o determine whether a new rule of law
should be applied retroactively or prospectively,
the court must consider the following factors:
‘(1) the purpose of the rule and whether it
would be furthered by a retroactive application,
(2) the degree of reliance placed on the old rule
by those who administered it, and (3) the effect
a retroactive application would have on the
administration of justice. The inquiry is very
fact sensitive.’7
The Johnson Appellate Division further stated that:
The general rule in civil cases is that a
new rule will apply to all cases that have not
reached final judgment. Full retroactivity is not
appropriate where it would expose the judicial
system to the undue burden of resolving numerous concluded matters. Pipeline retroactivity is
appropriate where it will serve the interest of
justice by permitting currently litigating parties
to resolve their claims on the merits. Pipelin