Lawyers will carefully choose the words they use in making arguments before courts in hopes of getting a better outcome. Legislatures also change the wording of the laws being argued about, in order to create a desired public reaction.
One of these latter changes occurred in New Jersey in 2014, when the state legislature amended the laws regarding alimony. One main reason for this was the ongoing discussion that has been occurring for the last decade about the fairness and propriety of what is often termed “permanent alimony.” There are those who believe that such open-ended awards of payments from one ex-spouse to another is bad policy, as it can be confusing and demoralizing for a paying spouse who does not have any idea when his or her obligation may end. In an effort to address these concerns, New Jersey altered the way such alimony was titled, and how it is administered.
Of course, regardless of the name, the alimony being discussed is not really “permanent” in the sense of being never-ending. It has always been more like alimony of an indefinite period. So, the first change the state made was to change the name from “permanent alimony” to “open durational alimony.” This modification makes it sound more like what it actually is, which is an award of alimony payments for an open-ended period of time. The changes weren’t only cosmetic, however, as the legislature also clarified that for alimony purposes, retirement was set at age 67, and that for marriages lasting fewer than 20 years the duration of the award could not exceed the length of the marriage.
Of course, there are certain exceptional circumstances that can create an adjustment to this duration. Further, there are a variety of factors that are taken into account when a court decides on type, amount and length of alimony.