Court Reviews Interesting Case on Limited Duration Alimony

Are you under the impression that alimony is only an issue if you’ve been married a specific number of years?  Not true.  Different types of alimony apply to a multitude of situations.  One example is limited duration alimony.

We’ve spoken before about how the length of alimony awards are determined by the courts.  In making a decision concerning spousal support, the judge follows the law contained in NJSA 2A:34-23.   Alimony falls into a number of categories; limited duration is just one of them.  There are fourteen factors that the court considers in making an award of alimony.  Duration of marriage, age, and health of the parties, as well as the couple’s standard of living,  are among them. 

A recent New Jersey unpublished Appellate Court opinion reviewed the lower court’s decision on a case that awarded limited duration alimony.  Although the Appellate Division agreed with some of the trial judge’s ruling, it questioned parts of it.  The case was remanded back to Family Court.

Determination Concerning Limited Duration Alimony

According to the statement of facts in the Appellate Court opinion, Wendy Richardson-Atwell and Philip B. Atwell married in 2004.  They did not have children.  Philip earned approximately $150,000 as a civilian employee of the United States Army.  Wendy did not work outside the home and had a medical disability.  In fact, Wendy receives Social Security Disability (SSD) payments as a result of her disability.

When Wendy filed for divorce in 2010, the couple were married a little over six years.   Almost a year after the divorce complaint was filed, Wendy’s attorney filed a pendente lite support motion.  This translates to a request for support while the divorce case is under consideration.

The court ordered Philip to pay Wendy $2500 per month and also made him responsible for Wendy’s cellphone bill, as well as both car and health insurance.  Philip did not comply with the order and the two returned to court.  Subsequently, Philip’s wages were garnished to ensure that Wendy received the payments due to her.

Within months of the new court order, Philip retired from his job and began to receive pension benefits.  His income was thus substantially lower.  Ultimately, in January of 2013, the court reduced Philip’s alimony obligation to $1500 monthly.  He was no longer held responsible for Wendy’s cellphone or insurance bills.  The judge ordered that the decision was effective as of November 2012.

Subsequent to the court’s order for reduced payments, Philip became a tax preparer in 2013, which brought his total income (including pension benefits) to $120,000 annually.

The divorce itself was delayed.  One problem was that the original trial judge asserted a conflict of interest that she was unaware of when the case commenced.   Finally, in April of 2014, the couple’s divorce case was tried before a new judge.

The court issued a lengthy opinion in May of 2015.  Philip’s pension was considered as part of the marital assets.  Wendy was awarded fifty percent of one-fifth of her ex-husband’s pension.  This determination was made in accordance with statutory requirements.

In addressing alimony, the judge did not include Philip’s pension as part of the calculations.  Instead, the money Philip earned as a tax preparer were considered.  Wendy had a savings account of approximately $40,000 and also received social security benefits, as well as workers’ compensation payments.  These were also part of the calculations.

The court made a determination concerning alimony using the fourteen factors detailed in NJSA 2A:34-23.   One of the provisions of the statute deals with couples who are married less than twenty years.  Limited duration alimony may not exceed the length of the marriage unless there are unique circumstances.

Were there any exceptional circumstances here?  Not according to the judge.  However, the court took into account the pendent lite support.  Although Philip paid Wendy alimony during that time period, he was actually receiving his entire pension.  This included the portion that Wendy was entitled to as part of equitable distribution. 

As a result, the judge ordered Philip to pay Wendy limited duration alimony for five years.  The five years was to run from the date of the final judgment of divorce in May of 2015. There were other issues addressed by the court regarding payments.

Philip’s attorney challenged the ruling and argued that the pendente lite order called for alimony payments.  He had already made four years of payments. Therefore, Philip maintained that the judge’s decision would make his alimony obligations extend to nine years.  This was obviously longer than the couple’s six-year marriage.

The Appellate Court reviewed the trial court’s decision and determined that there was a need for recalculation of the alimony award.  It remanded the case back to the lower court, indicating that Wendy was entitled to limited duration alimony from April 2011 to April 2017.  This represented a six-year period from the filing of the first motion.  It cited a shortfall in what was due to Philip because of the pension being part of equitable distribution.

Contact Us

Divorce and alimony proceedings can become very complicated.  It is, therefore, important to seek the services of an experienced family law attorney.  The Law Offices of Sam Stoia offers a complimentary consultation for those needing assistance.  Contact us to schedule an appointment.

Court Reviews Interesting Case on Limited Duration Alimony

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