Remarriage and Limited Durational Alimony in New Jersey
In a recent New Jersey alimony decision, a couple entered into a marital settlement agreement that gave them limited durational alimony of $120,000 per year for five years, paid out in installments of $10,000 per month, and included waivers of the right to get a modification or termination of the agreement. The agreement didn’t include a provision about what would happen with alimony if the wife remarried.
The dual final judgment of divorce incorporated their agreement. When the plaintiff remarried the following year, the husband stopped making alimony payments to her. The ex-wife moved to enforce his alimony obligation the following year. He cross-moved to terminate the obligation, effective on the date of her remarriage. She argued that the alimony obligation wasn’t affected by her remarriage and that he could only stop paying upon death or the expiration of the limited duration term.
The settlement agreement called the alimony obligation non-modifiable and non-terminable for five years and stated that it could not be modified under any circumstances. It also stated that the ex-wife was free to cohabit and that the ex-husband had waived the right to apply for a modification in case the plaintiff cohabited as defined under existing law. There was also a mutual waiver of the right to modify alimony during the five-year term, even if the parties’ income increased or decreased, or they cohabited with an individual of the opposite sex or had children with someone else or retired. There was no reference, however, to remarriage. The defendant argued that since there was no reference to remarriage, there was no agreement to waive the right to modify the agreement or terminate it in case of remarriage.
The wife argued that there were two express circumstances in which alimony could be terminated in the agreement — expiration of the alimony period or death. Therefore, she believed remarriage could not be a basis of termination.
The trial court agreed with the ex-wife. Her motion was partially granted. The defendant was required to bring all spousal support current within 30 days, and if he didn’t provide payment within that time frame, the court would sanction him.
The defendant appealed, asking for a termination of his alimony obligation and reversal of other aspects of the order, including its imposition of sanctions. He argued it was an error for the trial judge not to terminate his alimony obligation under the settlement agreement and and N.J.S.A. 2A:34-25.
The appellate court explained that the trial court’s interpretation wasn’t entitled to deference in the interpretation of the contract. It reasoned that when the parties made the agreement, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-25 provided that permanent and limited duration alimony would terminate upon remarriage. This was the public policy. The parties had described the alimony as limited duration alimony, but the court didn’t ascribe to them the Legislature’s characterization of this type of alimony. The automatic termination provision of the statute wasn’t referenced in the contract. The court concluded there was a factual issue left regarding their intent, and a plenary hearing regarding intent would be required. The court reversed.
If you are considering divorce in Bergen County, and you are concerned about your financial security, it is important to retain an experienced and aggressive alimony attorney to seek an appropriate outcome. Contact the lawyers of Leopold Law at (201) 345-5907 or through our online form. We have attorneys available who can handle all aspects of a divorce.