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I was told (not a lawyer, not told by a lawyer, so maybe incorrectly) that in New York divorce cases, there is a standard formula that computes spousal support amounts and asset division, presumably based on incomes of divorcing couple.

How does this work in New Jersey? Assuming that there is no pre-nup or other contract in place, is there some standard rule that the judge has to follow, or do they have big leeway to decide spousal support amounts and asset division?

At a higher level, basically the question is, how predictable/unpredictable can spousal support amounts and asset division be in NJ divorce?

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  • Most states, and I would not be surprised if NJ is among them, use a "formula" to ensure equitable (not necessarily equal) division of marital assets and liabilities. There can be a lot of factors that go into that including pre-marital assets, income, children, custody, etc. That's why it's best to be represented by a good attorney so that your interests are protected as well as possible.
    – jwh20
    Nov 30, 2022 at 17:49
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    @jwh20 - so the question is, does NJ have a formula, and most importantly, how much can a judge go and do whatever they want ignoring the formula.
    – user17760
    Nov 30, 2022 at 18:46

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A New Jersey judge has immense equitable discretion in the division of property in a divorce, although it is not unlimited. The distribution need not be equal, only equitable.

In terms of spousal support payments, the judge also has wide discretion, under a multi-factor test. There is a formula that can be used as a basis for starting the analysis, but the judge has considerable authority to deviate from that formula and can consider marital fault in making the determination in a fault based divorce.

Judicial decisions on these questions are reviewed for an abuse of discretion so there is not one correct decision for a given set of facts.

At a higher level, basically the question is, how predictable/unpredictable can spousal support amounts and asset division be in NJ divorce?

There are extremes of one sidedness that are very unlikely, and there are "soft norms" that are frequently followed in typical cases that aren't hotly litigated. But the range of what is well within the unquestionable discretion of a trial court judge in a New Jersey divorce is quite great.

There is no exact legal basis for translating this into numbers, but divisions from 40-60 to 60-40, and bigger proportionate differences in spousal support awards would be not uncommon.

Differences even between different judges handling identical cases in the same courthouse could differ to that degree.

It is also within the authority of a New Jersey judge to be disproportionate in property division in favor of one spouse and disproportionate in spousal support in favor of the other spouse, often for the purpose of providing most or all spousal support in the form of "lump sum alimony" in order to avoid further litigation where collection might be difficult such as where the spouse who would owe spousal support is self-employed (e.g. contractors), or irregularly employed (e.g. actors).

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  • I thought that the fact that NJ had "no-fault" divorce implied there's no bases for "fault based divorce" logic for the judge? What am I missing? Thanks for a comprehensive asnwer, BTW!
    – user17760
    Dec 1, 2022 at 18:44
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    @CuriousGeorge While no fault divorces are available in New Jersey, fault based divorces are also available in New Jersey and can be selected by an aggrieved spouse. See danddfamilylaw.com/6-legal-grounds-for-divorce-in-new-jersey Many U.S. states have this system rather than abolishing fault based divorce entirely (as, e.g., Colorado has done) and most divorcing spouses in these hybrid states elect a "no fault" divorce, but not all of them. This is also the case in New York State which was the last state to provide for a "no fault" divorce option.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 1, 2022 at 18:54
  • Expect a follow up question that arose from that link :) Just waiting for question timeout.
    – user17760
    Dec 1, 2022 at 20:19

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