Should I be awarded permanent alimony or limited duration alimony?

Friday, February 27th, 2009

1. I was married for 11 years and I am now getting a divorce. My husband insists that I should only receive limited duration alimony. However, I insist that I should receive life time permanent alimony. Who is right here?

Each alimony case stands on it’s own individual facts. Moreover, let’s get real here; Some judges are inclined to award permanent alimony, while there are other judges who are very conservative and “stingy” with the alimony. Alimony battles are vicious and believe me matrimonial lawyers earn every penny that they are paid. Litigating over alimony is a brutal business.

An interesting case is Valente v. Valente, A-1593-06T11593-06T1. Here, the defendant/husband filed an appeal of the judgment his divorce. The family court awarded his wife permanent alimony. The parties were married on September 18, 1992 and they had three children. This was a eleven year marriage.  At the time of the divorce, the plaintiff was forty years old and the defendant wife was forty-two. After a lengthy trial, the court awarded the plaintiff $10,000 per month in alimony on a permanent basis. Yikes!!!! I bet the defendant’s lawyer ran away from the court house when the judge rendered his decision. Thereafter, after the husband awoke from his panic attack the defendant/husband appealed..

The major issue on appeal was whether the alimony award to plaintiff/wife should be permanent alimony or limited duration alimony. The Appellate Division noted that the marriage in this case was traditional in that defendant was the sole income earner, and the while plaintiff was a homemaker and a caretaker of their three children. The defendant was a successful businessman who owned fifty percent of an insurance agency. He earned an average of $323,000 over three years prior to the filing of the complaint. The defendant’s success in his business permitted the parties to live a luxurious marital lifestyle. Meanwhile, the plaintiff has a high school degree,  and she worked in the clothing industry after high school until just before the birth of her first child. She earned about $24,000 per year. Since that time she was primarily a wife and homemaker.

The Appellate Division noted that the plaintiff was in good health and perfectly capable of working to help support herself and the family unit.  Therefore, the Appellate Division  reversed the permanent alimony award. The Valente court further held that an alimony award of limited duration was the correct choice. The marriage of eleven years and nine months was of an intermediate length. The court also noted that the plaintiff was relatively young and very intelligent. Moreover, the children were both of school age. Given these factors the Appellate Division held that

We see no reason why she cannot obtain employment within a reasonable time, and an award of limited duration alimony will give her incentive to do so. Moreover, at the end of a limited alimony term, plaintiff may seek permanent alimony or an extension of limited alimony if her earnings are insufficient to maintain her lifestyle without alimony.

The Valente case is a very important one.  In my assessment, this case indicates that permanent alimony awards are extremely hard to obtain in marriages that are in the mid length range of 10 to 14 years. Many judges firmly believe that limited duration alimony awards are much more fair and reasonable than permanent alimony awards. Moreover, it is often impossible to settle a contentious divorce case if one party insists on receiving permanent alimony. The bottom line is that limited duration alimony awards are preferable by many judges. New Jersey jurisprudence is tilting toward having a presumption of awarding a limited duration award in a mid length marriage in the range of 10 to 14 years.

2. I was married for 7 and a 1/2 years. I am now getting a divorce. The major holdup in our divorce negotiations is whether my wife should get permanent or limited duration alimony. Who is right, and what type of alimony will my wife get?

Your wife will probably get limited duration alimony. An interesting case is Brodeur v. Brodeur, Docket No. A-1665-05T11665-05T. In this appeal, the defendant Martin P. Brodeur, a professional hockey player, contends that the court committed a reversible error by awarding his thirty-three year old wife, plaintiff Melanie A. DuBois, permanent alimony in the amount of $500,000 annually. The marriage only lasted 7 and ½ years. The defendant argues that permanent alimony was not appropriate because the marriage was not one of long duration.

Thereafter, the defendant appealed. His primary grounds on on appeal was that the alimony award should have only have  a limited duration award and not permanent alimony. The Appellate Division reversed and it held that he should only have to pay limited duration alimony. More specifically the court held that limited duration alimony is thus awarded in recognition of a  dependent spouse’s contributions to a relatively short-term marriage that demonstrated attributes of a “marital partnership.” Id. at 483. Both limited duration and permanent alimony reflect the policy that marriage is an economic and social partnership and that the financial and non-financial contributions of both spouses should be recognized. Id. at 479. All other statutory factors being in equipoise, the duration of the marriage marks the defining distinction between whether permanent or limited duration alimony is warranted and awarded.  Id. at 483.

The Brodeur court thus held that given the length of the parties’ relationship and the current age of plaintiff, an award of limited duration alimony rather than permanent alimony should have been awarded. Permanent alimony, however, given the limited duration of this marriage, plaintiff’s young age only limited duration alimony should not have been awarded.

The Brodeur case is very important. This case proves that any marriage must be least 10 to 15 years long to be considered for permanent alimony. It seems ridiculous that a person could even try to get permanent alimony in such a short marriage of only 7 and ½ years. The jurisprudence of family law in my opinion has gotten too liberal, especially for the dependent spouse. Hopefully, this decision will rein in some of the liberal decisions, and put some fiscal sanity back into determining the length and the amount alimony. A person should not have to be punished for life if his or her marriage failed. I understand and can appreciate if the court awards permanent alimony for a 15 year or longer marriage. However, for a 7 and ½ year marriage, I can’t conceive how a family court could award permanent alimony.

This article was written by Theodore Sliwinski, Esq. © Theodore Sliwinski, Esq. All Rights Reserved.
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