Recently we have been in touch with clients who are either happy or discouraged because of the new alimony law. Many of our clients who have been paying alimony are looking forward to stopping their payments on March 1, 2012. Others are afraid they are going to have their alimony cut off on that date. There will probably be news stories on March 1, 2012 in the newspapers and on television, and many people will be misinformed and either elated, or crushed to find out that in most cases existing judgments will take time to conform to the new law and there is much uncertainty. It is important for people to keep in mind that with regard to cases decided or agreed to under prior law, the law is not automatic. It will start applying to new cases on the day it is effective, but the new law requires that for existing cases you have to file a complaint for modification of the prior judgment and get the court’s permission to stop making payments. Until the court tells you that you no longer have to pay alimony you have to continue to make payments or you will be in contempt of court.
The new alimony law can be grounds to file a complaint for modification, but it does not permit people to file a complaint for modification which is based solely on the new law, immediately upon the law coming into effect on March 1, 2012. If you are already at retirement age, you have to wait until March 1, 2013 to file your complaint for modification. If you were married for 15 to 20 years at the time of your divorce, you will have to wait until March 1, 2015 to file your complaint for modification. There are other rules in the new law about when you can file for modification. You need to check out your situation before doing anything.
It is also important to note, that even if the new durational requirements appear to terminate alimony, there are nine different grounds for the court to decline to modify the alimony, giving the courts wide discretion and unfortunately, guaranteeing that there will much litigation over which exceptions should apply and how to apply them. It is too early to tell how this all will settle out, and we are glad to consult with any former or new client with questions about how the new alimony law will effect them.