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Could a Victim of Domestic Violence Be Required to Pay Alimony to the Abusive Spouse?

Most people would be shocked to find out that an individual who obtains a final restraining order against their spouse could be ordered to pay alimony to support his/her abuser. The Prevention offile000388004075-3-200x300 Domestic Violence Act (“Act”) specifically states that victims of domestic violence are entitled to financial support from their abusers. However, the Act is silent on whether a victim of domestic violence who is also the income producing spouse has to support the abuser.

For the past few years, there have been efforts before the legislature to change New Jersey’s alimony statute with respect to whether a victim of domestic violence may be expected to pay alimony  to their abuser. Specifically, pending before the legislature Assembly Bill A399, with one of the proposed changes to the alimony statute being:

“J. The Court shall not award alimony to any person convicted of a crime or offense involving domestic violence as defined in section 3 of P.L. 1991, C.261 (C.2C:25-19) by the victim of that crime or offense. If the recipient of an existing alimony award is subsequently convicted of a crime or offense involving domestic violence against the payer spouse or partner, such conviction shall constitute changed circumstances for the purposes of a petition to terminate the alimony award.  Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to limit the authority of the court to deny alimony for other bad acts.”

However, this bill has not been passed.

Nevertheless, the courts have the ability to deny alimony to an abusive spouse pursuant to the 2014 amendments to the alimony statute. N.J.S.A. § 2A:34-23(i) currently states that: “[n]othing in this subsection shall be construed to limit the authority of the court to deny alimony for other bad acts.” (Emphasis added)  Consequently, it appears that the current version of the alimony statute would allow the court to consider the domestic violence committed by one spouse against the other as a factor in an alimony determination.   Furthermore, N.J.S.A. § 2A:34-23(g) states the following:

“In all actions for divorce or dissolution other than those where judgment is granted solely on the ground of separation the court may consider also the proofs made in establishing such ground in determining an amount of alimony or maintenance that is fit, reasonable and just.”

However, the courts have yet to interpret in any case law the 2014 amendments to the alimony statute as allowing them the ability to deny alimony to an abusive spouse guilty of domestic violence. Thus, there are diverging outcomes in cases where there is a final restraining order against a spouse seeking alimony.   Where the Legislature and the courts take this legal issue remains to be seen.