Alimony reform: Chalk one up for New Jersey

Wedding bands and moneyNew Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, has signed into law the first significant changes to that state’s alimony laws in nearly 10 years.

The bill essentially puts an end to permanent alimony and limits how long payments can be made for couples married fewer than 20 years. If married for fewer than 20 years, then alimony will not exceed the length of the relationship, except for in exceptional circumstances.

The legislation also makes it easier to cut or even put an end to alimony payments if a paying spouse loses their job or retires.

The law, however, applies mainly to future divorces – i.e. it’s not retroactive and that has many saying it doesn’t go far enough. However, it does allow a rebuttable presumption that allows payments to end once the ex spouse reaches full retirement at age 67.

As you may recall, retroactivity was a sticking point for Florida Gov. Rick Scott when he decided to veto an alimony reform bill passed by the state legislature in 2013.

Read more: Alimony reform: Chalk one up for New Jersey

DBR: Same-sex marriage rulings muddy waters

Gay marriage smallThe battle over same-sex marriage has been heating up all across the United States. Rulings by lower courts are being challenged at the appellate level and those who either are for or against are asking the courts to make a ruling once and for all.

In Florida, Attorney General Pam Bondi has filed legal challenges in numerous cases and judges have stayed their own favorable rulings as they await the outcome of these challenges.

Meantime, those who want to tie the knot (or in some cases untie it) have been left in a legal limbo of sorts while they await the courts' rulings.

I recently addressed the dilemma in a Board of Contributors article for the Daily Business Review. Click here to read.

Four key areas of contention in divorce

Fighting smallWhen it comes to divorce, the most common areas of contention are: equitable distribution, alimony, child support, and attorney’s fees. All four are addressed in a recent case before the First District Court of Appeal.

In Ballard v. Ballard, the appellate court found that the trial court abused its discretion by including within the equitable distribution scheme certain furniture that belonged to the husband before the couple was married. The court also found that the trial court abused its discretion by including $42,012 from a credit union account that had been “significantly diminished” by the time the divorce case had gone to trial, without finding that the husband had used the money improperly.

In fact, the husband had testified that he had used about half of the money from that account to pay his attorney. The appellate court noted that money used during divorce proceedings to pay for attorney’s fees should not be included in an equitable distribution scheme unless there is evidence that one spouse intentionally took the money for his or her own benefit for a purpose unrelated to the marriage, at which point the trial court would have to find intentional misconduct.

When a couple marries what’s been his and hers’ may become theirs. But when they decide to split, couples often go back to the idea of what was mine before we tied the knot remains mine, and mine alone again, once the knot is untied.

Florida has statutes dealing with equitable distribution of marital property. They serve as guidelines for the court to follow when determining who gets what. In this case, the appellate court ruled that the lower court abused its discretion with regard to equitable distribution as it related to amounts paid toward the mortgage on a non-marital property. When marital assets are used to reduce a mortgage, the increase in equity becomes a marital asset.

Read more: Four key areas of contention in divorce

Divorce and religion: Who gets to decide?

BibleDuring a marriage many parents often agree to raise their children in a single religion, or they may agree to teach their children about both parents’ religion in a positive manner. But what happens if the couple divorces?

There have been a number of rulings on the issue as courts must not only decide what’s in the best interest of the child, but also must taken into consideration the parents’ First Amendment Right to freedom of religion. When making such a decision the courts have to strike a balance between these two interests.

The First District Court of Appeal recently addressed the matter in Pierson v. Pierson. During the marriage the couple had three children, all of whom were raised in the mother’s religion of Catholicism. After the couple separated, the father became a Jehovah’s Witness.

During the hearing on the mother’s petition for divorce, the director of family ministries at the mother’s church testified that the couple’s oldest son had told his Sunday School teachers and other students during one class that the music they were listening to was wrong, that priests were bad, the Bible they were using was wrong and that there was no Heaven.

Read more: Divorce and religion: Who gets to decide?

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