Changes in Matrimonial Law – Alimony, Child Support and Time Sharing

There are several major changes in Matrimonial law that recently took effect as of the new year.  One major change involves alimony, and another involves child support and time sharing.  This article will address, in part, some of these changes and attempt to assist you, or someone you know, in learning more about your rights or obligations in a court of family law.

There is now a rebuttable presumption that a short-term marriage is one of less than seven years and a long term marriage is now 17 years or greater.  A “moderate” term marriage is between the two- greater than 7 years and less than 17.  There is now a two-year time limit on “bridge-the-gap alimony” which is designed to help someone to make the transition from married to being single.  Such an award cannot be modified in amount or duration.

Another form of support for the spouse in need is “rehabilitative” alimony which can be awarded to assist a party to establish the capacity for self-support through either redeveloping previous skills or credentials or through new education, training or work experience.  It is now required that the party seeking such support provide a specific rehabilitative plan.

A new form of alimony is “durational” alimony.  This can be awarded if permanent periodic support is not appropriate.  If you are married for less than 17 years, this form of support is available to provide a party in need “economic assistance” for a particular time period.  The length of the award  cannot be modified unless there are exceptional circumstances and it cannot exceed the length of the marriage.

In the past it was possible for a marriage of 10-16 years to be sufficient to award a party permanent periodic alimony dependent on the circumstances.  While this is still possible under the new statute, I believe the intent is to make such an award more difficult and less likely.  However, the Court will consider numerous factors, including: the standard of living, the length of the marriage, the age, physical and emotional condition of each party, the financial resources of each party as well as the earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills and employability of the parties. These last four considerations may make it more likely for the Court to award permanent alimony. The Court will also consider other factors including the responsibilities of each party to the minor children they have in common.

Without spelling out each change in the law (as there are many), suffice it to say that if you have an issue of alimony or are considering filing for divorce, it is essential that you consult with an attorney to determine your specific rights under your particular circumstances.  If you learned something about these issues six months ago or longer, you would be wise to seek updated counsel.

One other major change regarding alimony is the provision that states “[A]n award (of permanent alimony) may be modified or terminated based upon a substantial change in circumstances or upon the existence of a supportive relationship in accordance with 61.14.”  Thus, a party need not remarry or live with someone to potentially affect their alimony award if they have an appropriate “Supportive relationship.”

The child support guidelines have been revised in order to encourage efficient settlement of support issues and minimize the need for litigation.  If a party now has overnight visitation of at least 20% of the time, that will likely lead to a substantial reduction in the child support obligation as opposed to time-sharing less than 20%.  The prior cut-off was 40% of overnights per year.

A common mistake made by parties is the failure to consider split holidays and summers where a party may have many more overnights with their child(ren) than is calculated during the regular course of the year.  This mistake results in an over-calculation of child support.  You should consider the overnights during the course of the entire 365-day period.

The State legislature has also substituted the word “time-sharing” for visitation and now requires the parties to enter a formal Time-Sharing Plan that spells out time sharing for the entire year and subsequent years.  If a parent regularly fails to exercise the time-sharing not caused by the other parent, there can be a modification of child support retroactive to the date the noncustodial parent first failed to regularly exercise such agreed-to or court-ordered time sharing.

Divorce is difficult and the legal system is not easy.  Dealing with new laws can be even more challenging as there are no case precedents that establish how the law is properly interpreted.  If you would like more information please feel free to email me at scottbrook@scottjbrookpa.com.