Do you know when your marriage began? What about when it ended? These questions seems like they should be relatively simple ones, but in New Jersey family law, the answers may not be as clear as you think. But it is an important question to ask, as when issues of alimony and equitable distribution are being decided the duration of the marriage is an important factor. Indeed, under the current alimony statute, for someone to qualify for open-durational alimony they have to have been married at least twenty years! So what years you and your partner were together count towards the marriage?
A marriage is generally considered to have begun when the parties formally entered into a legal marriage—meaning they satisfied whatever the requirements for a legal marriage are in the state or country where they married. These vary somewhat from state to state, but they usually that involves filling out a marriage license, usually as part of a civil or religious ceremony, and submitting it to the appropriate state agency. If you know the date that occurred—and most people do—then you have a pretty good idea of what date Courts in New Jersey will usually consider the marriage to have begun. However, the Court may consider property that was acquired in anticipation of the marriage—such as a home or a car—as being part of the marital property even if it was purchased before the marriage.
Sometimes we have potential clients tell us that they were in a ‘common law’ marriage, by which they mean they lived just like a married couple with someone but never registered their marriage with the state. There are still a few states that have common law marriage but New Jersey is not one of them (though New Jersey will recognize a common law marriage between people who had one in another state where it still exists.) That being said, it remains to be seen how New Jersey courts will treat a same-sex couple who only recently married but were together and lived just like spouses for many years. That may cause New Jersey law to adjust how it treats pre-marriage periods of cohabitation.
What about where the marriage ends? Surprisingly there is no clear-cut answer. Often, the easiest date to point to is the date one party or another files for divorce. This is usually right around when the parties stop living together or at least stopped functioning as a couple, but it isn’t always! In fact, parties sometimes separate and start living in separate households years before one of them files for divorce. This can make an easy sounding question—like ‘have the parties been married for twenty years’—very tricky to answer, particularly when someone’s alimony obligation or interest in a valuable asset is at stake.
Don’t try to figure it out alone! You may find yourself settling for far less than you are entitled, or paying far more than you should. Call The Law Office of Lynda L. Hinkle at 856-277-7888 for a free 30-minute consultation.