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Does the Length of a Marriage Matter in a Divorce?

The final outcomes of divorce proceedings reflect a variety of circumstances, including (but not limited to) shared children, state laws, each person’s income and assets, and the length of the marriage. That last factor can impact divorces in multiple ways, and tends to affect alimony and property division issues more prominently than childcare and support. In general, the longer a couple was married, the more property and connections (investments, business partnerships) they may have accumulated together, so this affects a court’s decision-making processes.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Marriages

About 41 percent of first marriages end in divorce, as do 60 percent of second marriages. The average length for a first marriage that ends up in divorce is approximately eight years; for second marriages that lead to divorce, the time period is about seven years or so. Some states, like Florida, define certain lengths of years for marriages as short- or long-term, but this is not true of courts across the country. As a guideline, short-term marriages can last from one day to around seven years, medium-length marriages can be up to about 17, and long-term marriages last longer than 17 years.

When a divorcing couple has minor children, custody issues will also be part of the picture. Some couples have children before they are married, right after marriage, or many years later. Therefore, the length of time they are together does not always coincide with how many children a couple shares.

How Does the Length of a Marriage Affect Alimony?

Alimony is usually based on the length of a marriage and is less likely to be awarded in the case of shorter marriages. The decision will also usually be based on each person’s income and earning potential during the union. If there is a significant economic disparity between the two spouses, a court could order temporary spousal maintenance to help the lesser-earning spouse out during the proceedings or for a short period of time after the divorce is final.

Spousal support can also be given for mid-length marriages, can be longer in duration, but can still be limited. With long-term marriages, you will see courts ordering wealthier spouses to provide spousal support for lengthier time periods. For some very long-term marriages, courts have awarded lifetime support for historically non- or lower-earning spouses.

In New Jersey, the goal of alimony is to assist the lower-earning spouse with making a transition from being married to single. The state’s laws for resolving alimony are somewhat vague, and the final decisions can also reflect each party’s age, physical and mental condition, standard of living established in the marriage, and the reason for the estrangement. It is also important to know that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 did away with deduction of support payments for payors – recipients do not have to report alimony payment on as taxable income on Federal returns.

How Does the Length of a Marriage Affect Property Division?

Couples who have not been together as long may find that the courts split the assets 50/50 rather than awarding a larger portion of the marital property to one of the spouses. An equal distribution is also possible for medium-length marriages, but there could be disproportionate awards depending on any historical income disparities.

With long-term marriages, courts will look at the couple’s income and earning abilities over time, and the standard of living that was shared. It is common for one spouse to have earned more during the union, and for courts to award lower-earning spouses a higher percentage of the marital property. This is done to put the person making less money in a similar financial position as the higher earner, helping to ensure that both have comparable living standards after the divorce.

Longer marriages can involve more complex financial and property holdings, when there are things like investment and retirement accounts, professional practices, employee grants and stock options, closely-held businesses, and real estate investments. When divorce lawyers handle these kinds of divorces, they sometimes work with financial planners, real estate and business appraisers, and actuarial accountants.

What Else Should I Know About Alimony and Property Division in NJ?

New Jersey courts have broad discretion when it comes to deciding alimony – there are no specific formulas used. You and your soon-to-be-ex can negotiate an alimony agreement without a judge, and can submit it to a court for approval. Also keep in mind that state laws prohibit alimony awards to spouses who are convicted of crimes like aggravated assault, manslaughter, criminal homicide, or murder. The five kinds of alimony are as follows:

  1. Pendente lite alimony: This is temporary support available while a divorce is pending, when one spouse is financially dependent on the other and requires help to pay for their living expenses throughout the divorce proceedings.
  2. Limited-duration alimony: Used when a supported spouses needs help supporting themselves right after a divorce.
  3. Rehabilitative alimony: For dependent spouses who need support while they are acquiring an education or training in order to gain financial independence or employment.
  4. Reimbursement alimony: This can be awarded when one spouse financially supported the other one while he or she was attending an advanced education program and had expected they would benefit from it (an example is one spouse working full time to support the other, who was in medical school).
  5. Permanent alimony: Most often reserved for long-term marriages, and is rarely actually permanent.

It is also important to keep in mind that New Jersey is not a community property state – it relies on the “equitable distribution” concept for divorces. The outcome of each case is determined by “fundamental fairness,” rather than sticking to the 50/50 equitable division. The factors taken under consideration are quite similar to those for alimony: length of marriage, income and property brought into the marriage, earning power, standard of living, and the spouses’ age, physical, and emotional health.

Marlton Divorce Lawyers at Goldstein & Mignogna, P.A. Offer Trusted Legal Guidance for Divorcing Couples

Whether your marriage lasted one year or 50, the compassionate, skilled Marlton divorce lawyers at Goldstein & Mignogna, P.A. understand how the length of time can impact your alimony, property division, and other issues. For a confidential consultation, call our Marlton, New Jersey offices at 856-890-9400 or complete our online form today. We help clients throughout South Jersey in Marlton, Burlington County, Camden County, and Gloucester County, and statewide.

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