NJ Alimony Reform Advocates continue their Fight to Eliminate Permanent Alimony

NJAR continues its fight to eliminate permanent alimony in New Jersey
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“How you think when you lose determines how long it will be until you win.”

I’ve always said to my children, a person’s character is not measured by their success. It’s how they handle a defeat. The same holds true for the wonderful group of passionate advocates for alimony reform.  I marvel at the resiliency of the members of this community. I am confident they will continue fighting the good fight to eliminate permanent alimony in New Jersey.

One of the guiding lights and outspoken advocates for eliminating permanent alimony, Stuart Kurtz, wrote an open letter to Jeralyn Lawrence, Esquire (incoming chair of the NJ Family Law Section), on behalf of NJAR/NJWAR.

Open letter to Jeralyn Lawrence, Esquire

Here are some introductory comments from Mr. Kurtz and the letter:

…We had a hearing scheduled a couple of weeks ago in Senate Judiciary Committee and our sponsor pulled the bill after their pressure.They continue to block our reform bills, unfortunately. I have sent this letter to Ms Lawrence, and she ignored it. If you would like, feel free to post in Cogitations along with a current status. The current status is inertia because the lawyers introduced a competing bill (A-4525) and have stalled the process.

1/3/2014

Dear Ms  Lawrence,

On behalf of my colleagues at New Jersey Alimony Reform and New Jersey Women For Alimony Reform, as well as alimony reformers all over New Jersey, I feel compelled to take you to task for your tactics in your endless fight against real alimony reform.

It is one thing to have an opinion on a subject. It is another thing to frame your opinion as that of an expert to legislators, misleading them and the public with inconsistencies, half-truths and outright scare tactics. You must be held to a higher standard in this situation and you miss the standard by the length of a football field. We find your advocacy to be self-serving and transparently so. I will now set the record straight, focusing on YOUR inconsistency and hypocrisy, specifically regarding your double talk regarding permanent alimony and intermediate term marriages.

You and I have something in common, Ms Lawrence. We have both written extensively on the subject of permanent alimony and the 10 year marriage in New Jersey. Interestingly enough, we both come to the same conclusion. You asked, rhetorically,  in your article entitled “Is a Ten Year Marriage Still Considered Long Term,” whether or not a marriage of intermediate length should lead to permanent alimony or limited durational alimony. You concluded, and I quote, that “limited durational, not permanent alimony, is appropriate”. I agree.

Unfortunately, how we use this conclusion in the alimony reform debate differs greatly. You backtracked on this conclusion (similar to the way you backtrack on the 2007 AAML report on the need for alimony guidelines) in your recent sworn testimony in front of the NJ Assembly Judiciary Committee. You claimed that judges need full discretion because a 10 year marriage which produced twins should be just as much considered for permanent alimony as the 25 year marriage. THIS GOES IN DIRECT CONTRAST TO YOUR WRITINGS. YOU SAY IN YOUR WRITINGS THAT PERMANENT ALIMONY IS NOT APPROPRIATE IN A 10 YEAR MARRIAGE YET IN FRONT OF THE COMMITTEE YOU SAID SOMETHING DIFFERENT. At that moment, you made it clear you will stop at nothing  to fight real alimony reform. And that includes contradicting your own writings.

I am a permanent alimony payer from a 10 year marriage where both parties worked throughout the marriage. Rulings like this (judicial decree with no explanation of rationale) are what force people to settle on alimony amounts that they will never be able to pay. My order is the 1% that drives the 99% settlement rate. Settlements are driven by fear, not reason, fairness or equity. You claim we have courts of fairness and equity but I submit that this is neither a fair nor equitable system. Checks and balances are needed to make it so.

Your colleagues tend to scoff at this scenario as “an outlier” but I disagree. Our limited durational alimony law states that permanent alimony MUST BE CONSIDERED FIRST and a judge must find, in writing, that it is not appropriate before considering other forms of alimony (i.e. limited durational alimony, rehabilitative, reimbursement). This sets a huge preference for permanent alimony. The judge would have needed to explain, in writing, why she ordered limited durational alimony. No explanation needed for permanent, it takes preference. This is completely backwards in 2013 and lends itself to rulings like mine. There is nothing more extreme and cookie cutter than permanent alimony. It is substantiated by nothing more than theory, not numbers. A judge should never be able to utilize an option like this without explaining the rationale for doing so. In fact, in Connecticut they just passed a law that says judges must explain the rationale behind ALL alimony awards. I wholeheartedly agree with this. No judge should ever order permanent alimony again without explaining why they did so.

I find it curious that you call a system with guidelines with ability to deviate (what we propose in A-3909/S-2750) “cookie cutter” yet you have no such qualms with our current “Permanent Alimony First” system, which is the ultimate cookie cutter. We simply propose replacing “permanent alimony first” with a series of guidelines based on the AAML 2007 report addressing problems in the wide discrepancies in alimony awards from judge to judge. What we propose is practical, sensible and our approach has been codified into American Law Institute principles. What we propose is not harsh, shocking or punitive. What is harsh, shocking and punitive is the system we have now. As the author of your bill, Mr Finnerty, says in his writings, judges all have their personal biases. We submit that the system needs checks and balances to ensure that those biases do not destroy people’s lives.

Your bill A-4525 doesn’t address the problem outlined in the scenario above (which is not uncommon)  nor any roots of the problem for that matter. The proposed adjustments to modification law in this bill would not even address a SMALL PERCENTAGE of the rejected modifications that were discussed in the committee hearing. And that is why we need the ability to modify prior rulings and MODIFIABLE AGREEMENTS (as allowed by Lepis law on modifications, as opposed to non modifiable ones that will not be affected by our bills) as part of the new law. People need real, immediate relief. They don’t need stalling. They don’t need “studies” to duplicate the work  AAML did over the course of a decade, and that work was very applicable to New Jersey, in contrast to what your colleague Ronald Lieberman says.

The amended A-3909/S-2750 is a thoughtful, balanced bill. It addresses a real problem with real solutions. It creates a system with checks and balances to create a more limited, stable playing field that would eliminate a great deal of litigation, posturing and bleeding of family assets. It is good policy wise and from a practical perspective. As you noted in “Just The Facts”, more people would get alimony WITHOUT the need for expensive, lengthy litigation. That is why women’s groups supported reform that went into effect days ago in Colorado. And it’s why groups supporting low-income earners supported guidelines in New York. Alimony reform through guidelines is GOOD POLICY.

Right now you are part of the problem, Ms Lawrence. I invite you to be part of the solution.

 Commentary

Well said.

[Larry's note- Quote is from G.K. Chesterton].

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2 Responses to “NJ Alimony Reform Advocates continue their Fight to Eliminate Permanent Alimony”

  1. Ruby2008 January 23, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this letter. Jeralyn Lawrence is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the powerful attorneys who are unwilling to let go of the income that is generated by endless litigation when lifetime alimony is the reward (oh, award. Alimony is not a reward..or is it?) The additional bills introduced are a sure admission that problems indeed exist with the current laws. This is in contradiction to what the family bar had denied only a year ago. The second bills serve no more than saying the laws that are in effect, “should be” effectively applied. Laws that say laws must be followed. No different than when Governor Christie signed the bill that said pre-nuptual agreements must be followed. Under judicial discretion agreements that were drawn up by attorneys, paid for by the client – were being ignored. Attorneys knew they would be of mute value in a divorce court, yet the continued this practice. After all, the argument to favor such an agreement could produce numerous billable hours of debate. Recently, a bill was passed which allowed child support to end when the dependent child reached 18 years of age. Family law attorneys lost a little more ground. No more litigating with matters concerning adult children who were no longer eligible for support. The burden is on the custodial parent to prove continued education requirements were being met. it makes sense to prove need than it is to continue claiming adult children who are in the workforce, out of the house, or even in the military as some cases were reported. If wages are garnished, it takes many months to stop this process and when it does, the recipient is not liable to refund any undeserved payments. Is it any wonder why family law attorneys are digging their heels in to prevent a change in what is most beneficial to them? We need alimony reform. Then a committee to assure the new reform laws are properly applied. Someone has to be there to watch that store before the twisted pilferage again begins.

    • lawrence berezin January 23, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

      Ruby,

      Great to hear from you this cold, icy, day in the frigid Northeast. Your comment is well stated and true. It is difficult to change out dated, embedded laws, let alone laws that provide economic benefits to lawyers and recipients of permanent alimony.

      Keep up the good fight.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughtful opinion.

      Best,
      Larry

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