With the exception of very long-term marriages (typically 25 or more years), most alimony awards are not permanent, meaning that the payor's obligation will end after a set number of years. One form of temporary alimony is known as “limited duration”, which is intended to serve as temporary assistance for spouses who have the means to eventually become self-sufficient. However, determining when financial independence should occur is not an exact science. Furthermore, there may be exceptional circumstances that occur after the divorce, which prevent a spouse from becoming self-sufficient.
In short, the answer to whether limited duration alimony (LDA) can be extended is “yes”. The problem is that it's incredibly challenging to prove a case for extension, unless one can prove “unusual circumstances” (N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(c)). While there are no specific guidelines for what makes a circumstance “unusual”, it would need to be compelling enough to order one party to continue paying support past an agreed upon date. Thus, it would have to be a very serious occurrence, such as a major disability that makes it impossible for the dependent spouse to work full-time, or at all. Otherwise, it's extremely difficult to prove that one cannot become financially independent when one has the education and skills to find a decent to well-paying job.
Having said that, the concept of financial independence is somewhat dependent on the quality of life one is trying to achieve. One of the most common divorce misconceptions is that both spouses are entitled to a lifestyle that is similar to the one they had during the marriage. In truth, the courts aim to ensure that each spouse has a life “comparable” to the marital lifestyle, within reasonable means. A paying spouse, after all, should not be bankrupt from making alimony payments. The payor is also likely to have additional on-going expenses as a result of the divorce. Therefore, a receiving spouse typically has to settle into a downgraded lifestyle, and work towards improving their finances on their own. A spouse who is unable to do this with a looming alimony termination date may attempt to file a motion to extend LDA, but the courts still require evidence of unusual circumstances.
Unusual circumstances, by the way, also apply to alimony awards that need to be reviewed because of fraud or evidence that was unavailable during the trial. For example, if you were to find out years later that your spouse failed to disclose the existence of certain bank accounts or properties during the divorce proceeding, that may be a qualifying circumstance for alimony modification. This would, however, be a modification of the total amount, not an extension of the alimony duration. As you can see, there are many finer points of law that may factor into your alimony issues, which is why it's important to discuss your rights and options with an experienced divorce attorney. For more information about NJ's alimony laws, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.