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How can retirement affect alimony payments?

On Behalf of | Apr 1, 2024 | Alimony

New Jersey law doesn’t have an option for permanent alimony orders in litigated divorce cases – at least by that name. It does offer “open durational” alimony. A payer may have to provide this support for as long as the recipient can’t support themselves – for example, if they’re too ill to work or are caring for a sick or disabled family member and can only work part-time.

What happens if a payer reaches an age where they can and want to retire? Is that grounds for having their payments reduced or eliminated?

Typically, retirement at a reasonable age is considered one of the circumstances in which a person can seek a modification to their support order. However, the court will consider a number of factors, especially if a modification would significantly affect the recipient’s financial well-being.

What factors will a court consider?

A court will consider whether the retirement will significantly reduce the income and resources of the payer. Maybe between retirement account distributions, pensions, savings and Social Security benefits, retirement won’t significantly affect the payer’s assets.

If retirement significantly reduces their income, the court will examine whether it is voluntary or involuntary. If someone has a physically demanding job that they just aren’t up to anymore, and they’ve reached the age where they can start collecting Social Security retirement benefits, retirement would likely be considered reasonable.

What if someone decides at age 55 that they’ve had enough and want to retire (and have enough money to do so)? It’s less likely that a court will see that as a reason to reduce their payments to their ex.

The recipient’s income (or potential for income) will also be considered. If they’re also getting close to or already at the age where they can start receiving Social Security retirement benefits (or Social Security spousal benefits, which may be higher), that will likely be a consideration.

What if a recipient decides to retire?

If a recipient plans to retire and asks for an increase in alimony, the same kind of factors will be considered. Is retirement reasonable based on their age and their job? What will their income look like after retirement (from IRA distributions, pensions, Social Security and other sources)?

As former spouses with a spousal support order in place get near retirement, it’s wise to assess the effect of one or both of their retirements on that order and whether a modification is necessary. Seeking legal, as well as financial, guidance can help.