On June 25, 2014, legislators, legislative staff, lawyers,
lobbyists and members of the opposing sides met to
resurrect the prior negotiations. After several hours of
intense negotiation, another compromise bill was drafted.
Unlike the compromise bill from May 2014, this new
package of bills—A-845, A-971 and A-1649—received
the immediate support of all sides. The following day,
June 26, 2014, with the officers of the Family Law Section
and the state bar, as well as the president of NJAJ, all present, the bill was voted out of committee and, via an emergency resolution, was introduced into the full Assembly.
The vote to support the bill was nearly unanimous. The
bill was then sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The momentum for passage would come to a startling
and surprising halt. The Senate was seeking a material
change to the Assembly version, and without the change
the Senate Judiciary Committee would not vote on the
Assembly bill. Notwithstanding continued negotiations,
the Senate refused to advance the bill on that date.
Over the next 72 hours, there was continued lobbying. Legislators, lobbyists, and members of the various
groups sought assistance in moving the Assembly
bill through the Senate. Those efforts were ultimately
successful, and on June 30, 2014, the last day of the legislative session before the summer recess, the compromise
bill was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and,
via an emergency resolution, was introduced into the full
Senate. The bill passed the Senate on June 30, 2014. It
was then sent to the governor.
Once again, the bill stalled, as the governor was
not required to take action on it until the Legislature
reconvened. During the summer, the state bar and NJAJ
continued lobbying efforts with the governor’s staff. At
the same time, a fringe group from the reform movement
commenced a campaign demanding the governor not sign
the proposed legislation. This opposition, and the governor’s inaction, caused tense moments. But on Sept. 10,
2014, Governor Christie signed the compromise alimony
reform bill into law.
The New Alimony Law
Caveat: For those who missed the caveat above, although
the author actively participated in both the drafting and negotiation of the bill that became the new law, the views cited in
this article regarding the ‘intent’ and ‘legislative history’ are
purely his own, based upon the author’s participation. These
views are intended to provide insight into the process and
guidance into intended application; however, they cannot be,
and are certainly not, a substitute for a true legislative history
(which, unfortunately, does not exist).
The first change to N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23b is found in the
first sentence—“permanent” alimony has been deleted.
It is replaced with “open durational” alimony. From the
start, the alimony reform movement’s stated goal was to
eliminate permanent alimony. In fact, nearly all of the
rhetoric regarding alimony reform throughout the country
has at its focus the end of permanent, or lifetime, alimony.
The first step, in their eyes, was to remove the word from
the bill entirely. Yet, as will be explained below, notwithstanding significant resistance, the concept of alimony
without a terminal date would survive.
In an attempt to ameliorate the concerns of the
reformers, in the initial drafts of the bill permanent
alimony was replaced with “alimony of indefinite term,”
which the author believes, quite frankly, was always a
more precise phrase to describe the permanent alimony
that existed in New Jersey. The intent was that, in appropriate circumstances, alimony could be ordered for an
undefined term; the termination of alimony would thereafter be based upon changed circumstances in the future.
However, the term “alimony of indefinite term” was
unacceptable to the legislators or the reformers, as, in
their view, this was not any different than permanent
alimony. Consequently, dozens of words and phrases
were bandied about, trying to find the word or phrase
that did not imply permanency but at the same time did
not foreclose alimony for an indefinite term. The focus
kept returning to a qualifier with the word “duration”
in order to describe the ‘new’ concept for alimony. Ultimately, the newly created term “open durational” alimony
was selected. What does it mean? In the author’s view,
open durational alimony is the same as alimony for an
indefinite term, but without the clarity alimony for an
indefinite term would have provided.
The next important change is found in factor 4 of
N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23b. One perception that all sides of the
argument sought to alter was the belief that only the
supported spouse was entitled to enjoy a “reasonably
comparable standard of living” after the marriage is
dissolved. The origin of this perception is found in Crews
v. Crews.18 Although a case concerning modification of
alimony, the Supreme Court stated the following