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Turner v. Turner

Decided: April 6, 1978.


Imbriani, J.c.c.


Is rehabilitative alimony available as a technique to resolve matrimonial disputes? Our statute is silent.

Inherent in such a determination are the questions (1) does a divorced woman (albeit on some occasions we will be dealing with a man) have a duty and obligation to seek suitable employment to maintain herself in the style of living to which she became accustomed during the marriage, and (2) may a court take cognizance of and terminate alimony on a predetermined date on the basis of reasonably foreseeable future events?

Rehabilitative alimony may be defined as alimony payable for a short, but specific and terminable period of time, which will cease when the recipient is, in the exercise of reasonable efforts, in a position of self-support.

Its purposes are multifold. It will direct a wife to seek and develop within a precise time period skills necessary to

obtain suitable employment. It will provide the husband with some certainty of the nature and extent of his obligation to his former wife. It will permit a court to consider reasonably foreseeable future events involving the parties and make a present determination of when alimony shall cease, which hopefully will avoid further recourse to our courts. Assuredly this will not always occur. But with sufficient information, finality should occur in the vast majority of cases.

A marriage has been destroyed and the court is called upon to play a role in the future lives of these litigants. What should that role be? As to alimony, it has historically been limited to an analysis of past and present facts in order to render a contemporary award of permanent alimony, which is made without any time limitation. Future events are ignored. The court does not anticipate what will or should occur in the future and make anticipatory decisions based thereon. We hope that the recipient will attain self-sufficiency. But we do not exert judicial might to encourage that end. Is such a traditional approach in awarding alimony in the best interest of the litigants?

None would dispute that the court should create an environment which will assist both parties in seeking and pursuing an independent path in life. Alimony, to the man, if unnecessary and a burden, will be an impediment; to the woman, if it causes her to live a life of physical and mental indolence, it will also be an impediment.

Our statute does not mandate alimony. It provides that a "court may award alimony to either party." N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23 (emphasis supplied). In the past alimony has been liberally granted and without time limitation, but terminable upon death of either or remarriage of the recipient. (Many voluntary agreements also terminate alimony when a former wife cohabits with an unrelated male.)

This court has previously addressed itself to some of the reasons for granting alimony, Lynn v. Lynn , 153 N.J. Super. 377 (Ch. Div. 1977), and noted (at 382) that while "women were formerly excluded from the employment market,

then accepted on a limited basis, they are now widely accepted by industry." What began as an elitist movement for "women's liberation" only a decade ago, now appears to have taken root as a profound and deep social change. Indeed, today there are many women who have considerable skills and are able to command salaries far in excess of what many men earn. It is imperative that courts recognize that society has changed.

Alimony should not, as one court said, permit "a wife capable of work to sit in idleness", Guindon v. Guindon , 256 N.W. 2d 894, 898 (S.D. 1977). Another, "they [women] are no longer per se entitled to a perpetual state of assured income or, as some would characterize it, assured indolence." Grinold v. Grinold , 32 Conn. Sup. 225, 348 A.2d 32, 33 (Sup. Ct. 1975). Of course, it will be for the court to sift all of the facts of each case to determine whether such concerns are present.

Divorce was once a badge of shame and dishonor. Even with a disastrous marriage, a wedded pair considered it unthinkable to seek a divorce.

But today our courts are deluged with an avalanche of divorce suits. It is said that out of every 1.8 marriages in New Jersey today, one ends in divorce. As a result, the average matrimonial litigant has undergone transmutation. In the past we dealt with men of means who had the ability to maintain two households. Now we deal with the store clerk, the assembly line operator, the building custodian and a host of other blue-collar workers. Unlike litigants of the past, these men cannot maintain one household, much less two, in the same style to which they and their former wives were accustomed. In this milieu should a divorced woman be required, as a matter of law, to put her skills to use, and if she has none, to develop appropriate skills, if possible, to acquire a job?

In the past our attention was riveted upon the needs of the rejected wife. This was because most men in the matrimonial courts had the ...

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