Alimony: Does It Work Both Ways?

The “traditional” object of alimony is support of the wife.  In fact, for years alimony has been defined as a continuation of the husband’s duty arising out of the marital relationship to support his wife.  However, as with many gender bias issues that have evolved over the years, the notion that only a wife will receive alimony as a result of divorce is simply not true today.  

Notwithstanding the traditional verbiage contained in case law, alimony may, in fact, be awarded to either party.  The roles of the husband being the breadwinner and the wife being the dependent spouse no longer apply in every divorce situation.  This sociological change was affirmed in the case Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139 (1980), when the late Justice Morris Pashman avowed, “traditional notions of sexist stereotypes must be abandoned.”  Thus, for at least the last thirty years, and certainly at present, all divorce cases and potential financial obligations are to be viewed in a gender-neutral atmosphere.  

Consequently, a court may award alimony to a wife or to a husband after considering a number of statutory factors.  The factors include, but are not limited to, the actual need and ability of the parties to pay; duration of the marriage or civil union; age of the parties; physical and emotional health of the parties; standard of living established in the marriage or civil union; the earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties; and parental responsibilities for the children.  Gender by itself is not a factor to be considered in relation to alimony and will not be part of such determination.

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