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Trends & Recent Reforms in Matrimonial Law

matrimonial law reforms

In January 2016, Governor Christie signed into law a new Child Support Bill. It was the third bill signed by the governor in a little more than three years that resulted in important changes in matrimonial law for New Jersey. The first was the Premarital Agreement Act of 2013; the second was the controversial Alimony Reform Act of 2014.

Those in favor of the family law changes pointed to the changes in our society. When the previous versions of the first two laws were enacted, those in favor suggested that there were fewer women in the work force and that many of the women who did work were less educated than those who are employed today. Proponents of change argued that modern women are, therefore, more likely to be able to support themselves.

Those opposed to many of the changes found in these three newer laws noted that even in modern times many women—in agreement with their spouses—opt to put their careers aside in order to raise their children and manage their household. They contend that marriage should be thought of as a partnership with each member focusing on a different area of responsibility.

Each of the 3 new laws focuses on a different area of matrimonial law.

The following helps explain:

The Premarital Agreement Act: This act went into effect in 2013. Its main focus is the enforcement of these types of marital agreements. The person wanting to set aside the premarital agreement still must provide evidence to support the request to terminate their agreement as there are still several circumstances that may be offered as reasons to support that request. Under the previous law, however, the court could set aside the premarital agreement if the agreement was deemed by the court to be “unconscionable” at the time of enforcement. With the new law only the time of execution can be considered. Also, many factors previously considered “unconscionable” were eliminated with this act.

The Alimony Reform Bill: This bill went into effect when Governor Christie signed it into law in September 2014. Probably the most significant change in alimony law was the elimination of the word “permanent.” Along with the elimination of the permanency implication, the new law provides that in marriages of less than twenty years, alimony cannot last longer than the length of the marriage although the court can still extend alimony beyond that time if it thinks the situation is warranted. Another change brought about by the new alimony reform law is that it became easier for the payer to change the amount or even to end alimony completely upon retirement. Under the previous alimony laws it was up to the payer to show why alimony should end; under the new updated alimony law the recipient must prove why payment should continue.

The new Child Support Bill: Changes brought about by the new Child Support Law, which goes into effect on February 1, 2017, are based on clarifying the assumed age issues around the child and child support needs. Under the previous law, the noncustodial parent was required to show why support should not continue past age eighteen. Although this update to child support law raises the presumed termination age from eighteen to nineteen, it also shifts the burden of proof from the payer to the recipient. In other words, the new law requires that the recipient prove why continued support is necessary; the previous law required the payer to show why support was no longer necessary. If the recipient fails to petition the court before the child’s nineteenth birthday, support will automatically end. The new law also differs in that it adds an age by which child support must end: under the new law, child support stops at age 23.

Laws change. It is important that you stay informed so that you are aware of the changes and how they may impact you, your marriage, and your children.

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