New Jersey is a very progressive state when it comes to alimony, and it's widely known that most forms of marital fault do not negate a dependent spouse's right to financial support. These martial faults include adultery, substance abuse and other “sins” that most people would find intolerable in a marriage. The courts agree, which is why they grant divorces, but the math of divorce is a whole other issue. Their main objective is to divide the properties and assets in a fair and equitable manner. Part of doing that is to ensure that one spouse isn't left impoverished, while the other one continues to maintain a good quality of life. Having said that, alimony is not guaranteed, since there are behaviors that are just too egregious to ignore.
An example of a case involving egregious fault is Clark v. Clark, which was decided by the Appellate Division in 2012. In this case, the wife, who normally would have received alimony, was found to have embezzled money from the couple's jointly owned corporation. The trial court issued an alimony award, but the Appellate Division reversed that decision on the basis that egregious fault should have been considered. It should be noted that they didn't determine whether or not egregious fault occurred. Rather, they ruled that the trial court should have done so, and if there was egregious fault, determine whether it was unacceptable to the point where it should negate the wife's right alimony.
But what makes a conduct unacceptable versus just terrible? To some degree, it's a level of judiciary discretion, but the conduct has to involve one of the following: 1) the fault has significantly effected the parties' finances, and 2) the fault is so abhorrent that enforcing an economic obligation would be contrary to the notion of justice. In Clark, for example, the wife committed major financial fraud from a company that was the main source of their marital income. This was an act of stealing from her husband and the marital assets to the tune of 30 to 40% of the daily receipts for a number of years. As such, the courts should have examined the specific circumstances much more closely.
As a case of financial fraud, this situation is more black and white than social fault, but there's really no clear set of rules for determining what is enough to invalidate alimony. What we can say for sure is that such cases are rarely brought to court, mainly because they're so hard to prove. If you believe, however, that your spouse has committed egregious fault, you should speak to an attorney right away about your rights and legal options. Based on your chances, and what you will need to prove, you may decide not to pursue the claim, but you will at least have made an informed decision. For more information on New Jersey's alimony laws, please speak with the experienced attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.
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