As a New Jersey divorce lawyer, I must often tell clients that they still have to pay alimony to their spouses, even if the divorce was the spouses’ fault.
Of course, there are always “two sides to a story,” which is one reason why fault is irrelevant to alimony determinations in New Jersey.
But not always.
In 2005, the New Jersey Supreme Court stated in the case of Mani v. Mani that there are two narrow exceptions to the general rule that marital fault is irrelevant to alimony.
First, the Court recognized that, where the marital fault has affected the parties’ economic life, a New Jersey family court may consider that fault into considering how much alimony to award. Two examples include gambling or excessive spending.
Second, the Court concluded that where the fault is particularly egregious, it may be considered by a New Jersey family court in determining whether alimony should be allowed at all. The New Jersey Supreme Court said that the denial of alimony can only be justified if the fault is “by its very nature so outrageous that it can be said to violate the social contract, such that society would not abide continuing the economic bonds between the parties.” Examples might include attempting to murder the supporting spouse or deliberately infecting the supporting spouse with a horrible disease.
The issue of what constitutes “egregious marital fault” was recently at the forefront of another New Jersey family law case. In Clark v. Clark, the parties owned and operated a pharmacy. Mr. Clark was the pharmacist. Mrs. Clark was the pharmacy’s bookkeeper who was responsible for handling the financial end of the business, including making all bank deposits.
After the parties filed for divorce, the pharmacy’s accountant told them that there was a cash flow shortage and their business could fail. Mr. Clark responded by obtaining an offer to purchase the business for $800,000, but Mrs. Clark would not agree. Ultimately, the pharmacy had to file for bankruptcy and ended up being sold for $114,000.
During the divorce proceeding, an accountant who reviewed the pharmacy’s finances concluded that the recorded cash sales of the pharmacy were $365,423 higher than the bank deposits. The trial judge nevertheless required Mr. Clark to pay $600 a week in alimony to Mrs. Clark.
On Mr. Clark’s appeal, the New Jersey appellate court found that Mrs. Clark’s behavior reached the high standard of egregious fault, in that she not only betrayed the sanctity of the marital vows of trust, but also kicked the parties’ financial security in the teeth by secretly draining cash from the pharmacy. The appellate court therefore vacated the trial judge’s alimony award and sent the case back to the trial judge for further consideration.
Salvaggio Law Group LLC devotes its entire practice to New Jersey Divorce and Family Law matters, including issues relating to alimony.
If you want to talk, please call us at (973) 455-1220 or fill out the Contact Form on our website.