Impact of Marital Fault or Misconduct on Alimony

Spousal Support Attorney Assisting Residents of Bergen County

Unfortunately many divorces result from marital misconduct such as adultery, substance abuse, abandonment, or domestic violence. When one spouse commits misconduct a question that often arises is whether that spouses marital fault or misconduct is a factor in determining an alimony award. While New Jersey is a “no-fault” state, the answer depends upon the specific facts of the case. In instances where marital fault effects the parties finances that fault can be considered in an alimony award. If you need legal advice in evaluating whether marital fault or misconduct may affect alimony in your divorce case, Bergen County alimony lawyer Brian D. Iton can help you. He has assisted many Northern New Jersey residents with a broad variety of family law matters, including negotiating and litigating alimony, property division, and child custody.

When Does Marital Misconduct Affect Alimony?

Alimony, or spousal support, is an award made by the court that requires one ex-spouse to regularly pay out funds to the other ex-spouse subsequent to the divorce. It is not a debt related to the division of property but an ongoing obligation that provides income to the payee spouse. The purpose of alimony is not punitive. Instead, it is meant to ensure that neither of the spouses suffers drastic economic adversity as a consequence of the divorce.

During a marriage, it is not uncommon for one spouse to be the primary breadwinner, (particularly if the decision is made that one of the spouses will stay home to raise children). No matter which partner earns more money the law treats marriage as an economic partnership in which each spouse has an equal right to the benefits of the family income, regardless of who earns it. The concept is that through their efforts each spouse contributes uniquely to the success of the partnership. Alimony is a recognition of this partnership relationship. The transfer of income from the higher-earning spouse to the non-earning or lower-earning spouse helps the lower-earning spouse maintain, to a certain extent, the standard of living to which they became accustomed during the marriage, notwithstanding the dissolution of the partnership.

As a result, since alimony is primarily an economic consideration based on the financial position of the parties during the marriage, marital fault or misconduct by either spouse is usually irrelevant to the question of alimony, even when the grounds for divorce may allege fault.

However, there are two circumstances in which a court will make exceptions to the general rule that marital misconduct does not affect alimony. These are when the marital misconduct amounts to economic misconduct, or when the misconduct in question is so egregious that it would be unconscionable to award alimony.

Examples of the first situation would be cases in which one spouse’s misconduct results in the dissipation of marital funds, such as through gambling, engaging in fraudulent financial dealings, hiding assets, using marital assets to support an extramarital affair, committing tax fraud, or intentionally destroying marital property. In these cases, since the misconduct of one spouse directly affects the couple’s overall economic situation, the court may take into consideration the behavior of the malfeasant spouse in deciding whether or not to award that spouse alimony, and the length and amount of alimony to be awarded.

The second situation involves seriously egregious misconduct that “shocks the conscience,” such that it would be manifestly unjust to award the malfeasant spouse any alimony. Although the limits of this standard have not been defined by caselaw, the New Jersey Supreme Court, in acknowledging such an exception to the general rule, cited hypothetical situations in which one spouse attempted to murder the other spouse or transmitted a “loathsome disease” to the other.

Discuss Your Alimony Matter with a Bergen County Lawyer

In summary, there are some limited exceptions to the general rule that marital misconduct has no role in determining an alimony award. However, whether the fault or misconduct exceptions may apply to an alimony award will depend upon the facts of your particular situation. If you would like to discuss potential alimony issues with an experienced attorney, call Bergen County alimony attorney Brian D. Iton at (201) 731-3086 or toll-free at (844) 431-3380, or use our contact form to set up a free consultation. Brian D. Iton represents clients who need a divorce lawyer in Hackensack, Paterson, Newark, Jersey City, and other cities in Bergen, Hudson, Essex, and Passaic Counties.