Alimony payments can be reduced or terminated based on a qualifying change of circumstances in either party's life. One of the most common changes of circumstance is retirement, which for most people, is around age 66 or 67, when they qualify to receive Social Security benefits. Some individuals, especially those with pension plans, may be able to retire earlier. At that point, it's very likely that an alimony award may need to be modified or terminated, based on the paying spouse's available income.
Prospective retirees may want to plan ahead by filing for an alimony modification as soon as possible. The courts, however, do set some limits on how far ahead a modification request can be filed, based on a prospective retirement date. Let's say, for example, that a paying spouse decides to retire in 7 years, at which point he would be able to collect on a 30 year pension. Since he would only be 60 years old at the time, he would not be eligible to receive Social Security, which means that he would most certainly be living on a reduced income. Thinking ahead, he decides to file a post-judgment motion for the termination of alimony after 7 years.
The courts, unfortunately, are not likely to approve a modification request based on a retirement date so many years into the future. On the one hand, the amended alimony statute does allow judges to consider prospective retirement dates in order to set alimony terms. On the other hand, the prospective retirement date should be within reasonable proximity to the filing date of the modification request. A prospective retirement date that is several years away could very well change based on unforeseeable circumstances in the paying spouse's life. There are also particularly vindictive spouses who claim that they will retire in so many years, when they have no intention of doing so. The result is that the paying spouse gets to keep all of his or her money, while the dependent spouse is cut off from alimony, as well as any retirement benefits until the paying spouse actually retires.
Of course, the majority of paying spouses are not trying to cheat the system, but dependent spouses do still run the risk of financial hardship if the paying spouse chooses to put off retiring for another few years. Spouses heading toward retirement may argue that modifying/ terminating alimony ahead of time is necessary, since being ordered to continue paying would directly affect whether or not they can actually retire. While this is a valid consideration, New Jersey family courts generally do not accept modification requests for retirement dates that are more than 12 to 18 months into the future. You should, however, discuss your situation with an experienced family law attorney in order to determine the right time to file for a modification or termination. For more information about your alimony rights and legal options, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.