Rehabilitative Alimony in New Jersey

As its name implies rehabilitative alimony is money paid from one spouse to the other to help “rehabilitate” the spouse receiving the alimony after the marriage is dissolved.

Rehabilitative alimony is usually awarded or agreed upon when one spouse has been out of the workforce for a substantial period of time and they need to enroll in or complete a course of education to make themselves more employable. Unlike alimony based on the receiving spouse’s support needs rehabilitative alimony is tailored to getting the receiving spouse back in the workforce.

A typical fact scenario where rehabilitative alimony would make sense is where one spouse stopped working when the children were young, and she or he has lost the in-demand workforce skills that they once had. The paying spouse can contribute to the receiving spouse’s school tuition. After the supported spouse completes their degree and obtains employment, the rehabilitative alimony should be terminated.

What Happens If The Intended Rehabilitation Does Not Take Place?

Let’s say the receiving spouse  receives money designated as rehabilitative alimony, and she uses it for purposes other than obtaining job-related skills? What happens if she starts a course of education or training, but she fails to graduate? What happens if she graduates but she still can’t find employment at an appropriate salary level for her skills? These are common issues which often lead to motions to extend alimony. The caselaw allows for the situation where the rehabilitation does not take place during the period of alimony payments. The question becomes what is the reason why the rehabilitation didn’t take place. If the receiving spouse wasted the rehabilitative alimony monies on some other pursuit other than improving her employment skills, or otherwise squandered the money earmarked for her to improve her education and job skills, then  a court would not have much sympathy for her if she sought to extend the term of the alimony. However, if she had medical issues, or other issues which impacted her ability to attend school, or complete her training in the anticipated timeframe, her motion to extend the term of rehabilitative alimony may be granted by the court.

Can Rehabilitative Alimony Be Awarded In Addition To Other Forms of Alimony?

A common question is whether rehabilitative alimony can be awarded in combination with other forms of alimony – permanent (now open durational), limited duration, and reimbursement alimony. The answer is yes in two cases, and probably not in the third case. A few examples will help illustrate the possible combinations.

Rehabilitative Alimony In Combination With Limited Duration Alimony

In a shorter term marriage limited duration alimony may be awarded to a spouse to help them maintain the marital standard of living for a period of years post-divorce. If the supported spouse also needs to upgrade their skills and education to re-enter the workforce, or to make a step up in the workplace, rehabilitative alimony may also be appropriate so that that they can better their employment prospects.

In fact, the combinations of limited duration alimony and rehabilitative alimony dovetail together nicely. Suppose that a spouse is given 8 years of limited duration alimony. During that 8 years she is supported at the marital standard of living. If she returns to school part-time for 3-4 years, with her tuition paid for by rehabilitative alimony, she can graduate and move into her new career with 4 years remaining on her limited duration alimony. She will now have 4 years (approximately) to progress in her career with the hope that by the end of limited duration alimony in year 8 she is fully self-supporting in her new career.

Rehabilitative Alimony In Combination With Reimbursement Alimony

Rehabilitative alimony can also be awarded in combination with reimbursement alimony. For example, a spouse may receive reimbursement alimony for helping their partner obtain a graduate degree, and she may simultaneously obtain rehabilitative alimony to help her strengthen her workforce skills.

Rehabilitative Alimony In Combination With Permanent (Now Open Durational) Alimony

It’s an open question whether a court would award alimony to rehabilitate the supported spouse and award that spouse open durational alimony. Prior to the recent amendments to New Jersey alimony law which replaced “permanent” alimony with “open durational” alimony, if a spouse received permanent alimony they generally were not going to receive rehabilitative alimony. The reason for this is because rehabilitative alimony is designed to increase the supported spouse’s income to the point where they don’t need alimony. An award of permanent (now open durational alimony) recognizes that there will likely be a need for continuing alimony because the supported spouse will probably not be able to increase their income to the point of becoming fully self-supporting.

I have been representing clients in family law cases for over 20 years. My practice coverage is statewide, with an emphasis on Northern New Jersey – Bergen, Hudson, Essex, Passaic and Union counties.If you have any questions about rehabilitative alimony, or any issues relating to your family don’t hesitate to contact me via telephone at 201-731-3086 (toll-free 844-431-3380) or using the email contact form. The initial consultation is free of charge.