In New Jersey, alimony (also known as spousal support) is meant to help a dependent spouse maintain a lifestyle comparable to the one he or she had during the marriage. Comparable is not the same as “equal”, but it does mean that one spouse should not be living a considerably better lifestyle than the other in terms of basic needs like food, clothing and shelter. While people typically associate alimony as money paid out after a divorce, it can also be paid during the divorce in the form of pendente lite alimony.
Either form of alimony award is primarily based on two factors: the standard of living during the marriage, and the spouse's ability to pay based on his or her available income. Unfortunately, these factors are often at odds with each other, since most people undergoing a divorce are downgraded from two incomes to just one. In that case, how can one party be expected to provide the other with a lifestyle comparable to the one they had during the marriage, without experiencing significant financial hardship?
The amended alimony statute addresses this all too common legal dilemma by advising judges that neither spouse has “a greater entitlement to that standard of living than the other.” Thus, all practical factors must be taken into consideration, such as “the parties' need for separate residences and the attendant increase in living expenses…” The court must also consider the amount and duration of pendente lite alimony before rendering the final alimony award.
A recent case that demonstrates the equal consideration of all practical factors is Malik v. Malik, in which the wife sought pendente lite alimony in order to maintain a standard of living comparable to the one she had with her husband. The husband opposed the motion, stating that his wife did not need support during the litigation since she was living with her mother. The husband continued to live in the marital residence and pay for all the associated costs, thus it was not possible for him to provide his wife with the funds to maintain a similar lifestyle.
The presiding judge recognized this problem, but per the law, one spouse was not entitled to a lifestyle that far exceeded the others. He advised that both spouses needed to accept that with two separate residences, there was simply a lot less to go around, hence each party would have to adapt to a downgraded lifestyle. He did, however, recognize the wife's entitlement to some level of support in order to bridge the gap, regardless of her living situation. In fact, it was most likely her lack of funds, relative to her husband's, that forced her to move in with her mother in the first place. He thus concluded that denying her alimony “would be the height of irony.” As you can see, the determination of alimony involves numerous legal, financial and personal factors, but the status quo during the marriage can no longer serve as the main basis.