Of the four types of alimony awarded in New Jersey reimbursement alimony is the most rarely used. It covers the situation where the parties pool their money to send one of them to get an advanced degree which they both intend to benefit from.
The classic example of a marriage where reimbursement alimony may be appropriate is the marriage where both parties meet in college, and they decide together that one will go to graduate school or professional school while the other holds a job and supports the family. If the marriage disintegrates, the spouse who received the benefit of the support while they pursued the advanced degree, may have to pay reimbursement alimony to the spouse who supported them.
One of the rationales advanced for reimbursement alimony in New Jersey is that unlike in neighboring New York, New Jersey family courts do not recognize advanced degrees as “property” to be distributed upon divorce. In New York, if a wife helps put a husband through law school, medical school or other advanced education, upon divorce she is entitled to a share of the value of the husband’s advanced degree. The degree is literally valued by an appraiser and it is distributed like any other property. In New Jersey an advanced degree, earned during the marriage with significant contributions from the non-degreed spouse, is not recognized as property to be distributed upon divorce. New Jersey’s answer to this situation is reimbursement alimony to the non-degreed spouse.
How Is Reimbursement Alimony Calculated?
Reimbursement alimony includes all financial contributions toward the former spouse’s education: “… including household expenses, educational costs, school travel expenses and any other contributions used by the supported spouse in obtaining his or her degree or license”. See Mahoney v. Mahoney, 91 NJ 488 (1982) at 501. Generally speaking reimbursement alimony does not terminate upon remarriage of the spouse receiving reimbursement as this form of alimony is based less on support and is more similar to a payback of monies expended.
The Interplay of Reimbursement Alimony and Other Forms of Alimony
Generally speaking reimbursement alimony can be awarded in addition to other forms of alimony. The reason for this is because reimbursement alimony is compensation for a past financial contribution. For example, a wife who helped her husband get an MBA by taking out loans and allowing him to concentrate on studying while she worked and supported the household would be entitled to reimbursement alimony. Depending on the circumstances she may also be entitled to open durational alimony (formerly permanent alimony) or limited duration alimony. If she needs to focus on getting her education and job skills upgraded she may also need rehabilitative alimony.
Reimbursement Alimony and Student Loans
As mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, reimbursement alimony is fairly rare. One of the reasons that reimbursement alimony is not awarded with much frequency is that nowadays spouses are much more self-directed, and they are less dependent on each other economically. The money that used to be provided by the other spouse in order to pursue an education, is now readily available from the Federal government in the form of student loans. If a husband or wife wants to get an advanced degree during the marriage, they will take out student loans in their own names, and finance their education. Without significant monetary contribution from their spouse there is no reimbursement necessary. Similarly, part-time, evening, and online degrees, allow students to work while pursuing their education, reducing the necessity to burden one’s spouse with being the sole breadwinner while an advanced degree is sought.
If you have any questions about whether reimbursement alimony is appropriate in your case give me a call at 201-731-3086 (toll-free 844-431-3380) or contact me via e-mail using the contact form. My family law practice is statewide with a concentration in Bergen, Hudson, Essex, Passaic and Union counties. The consultation is free of charge.