Alimony is neither a punishment for the payer nor a reward for the payee. Rather, it is an economic right that arises out of the marital relationship and provides the dependent spouse with a level of support and standard of living generally commensurate with the quality of economic life that existed during the marriage.
Appellee wife filed suit for divorce, alleging adultery and extreme cruelty, after she learned that appellant husband was having an affair. Since the wife's assets were substantially greater than the husband's, the husband sought permanent alimony of over $ 68,000 per year. The trial court awarded alimony in the amount of $ 610 weekly and denied attorneys fees. The appellate court affirmed, holding that the reduction in the husband's standard of living was justified by the finding that the husband was adulterous. The husband sought review of the appellate court's judgment.
Did the trial and appellate courts err in reducing the husband's alimony based on his alleged cruelty and adultery?
The court reversed and remanded, holding that marital fault was irrelevant to alimony under N.J.S.A. § 2A:34-23(b) unless the fault negatively affected the economic status of the parties or the fault so violated societal norms that continuing the economic bonds between the parties would be unjust. Since there was no allegation that the husband's fault had any economic consequences or that it was egregious, the appellate court improperly considered fault to justify the alimony award and the denial of counsel fees.