For decades, New Jersey courts have been required to consider the extent of premarital economic dependency in establishing the duration of alimony. Our Supreme Court has time and again reaffirmed that “the extent of actual economic dependency, not one’s status as a wife [or husband], must determine the duration of support as well as its amount.” Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139, 155 (1980); Lynn v. Lynn, 91 N.J. 510, 517 (1982). Over time, that rationale has filtered down through the judiciary and blurred the line between marital and non-marital relationships, which culminated in the case of McGee v. McGee, 277 N.J. Super. 1 (App. Div. 1994).
In McGee v. McGee, 277 N.J. Super. 1, 4 (App. Div. 1994), the parties began dating in 1981. By 1983, they had moved in together, and except for a relatively brief separation in 1984, they continued to live together thereafter. The parties were married in 1989, and a complaint for divorce was filed in 1991. According to the Appellate Division, “[f]rom 1981 onward, Dr. McGee supported Mrs. McGee financially.” Ibid. Dr. McGee paid all the household bills, provided his wife with credit cards, and gave her $300 in cash per week. Mrs. McGee, for her part, undertook “all of the household and domestic responsibilities; cooked dinner; ran errands; did the cleaning and laundry; cared for the horses and shopped for food and clothing for herself and Mr. McGee.” Ibid. In short, the parties “engaged in a traditional marital partnership long before the formalities of marriage took place.” Ibid. Dr. McGee even “admitted that they occasionally held themselves out as husband and wife.” Id. at 5. During their divorce proceeding, Mrs. McGee sought permanent alimony, but the trial court ordered Dr. McGee to pay just six months of rehabilitative alimony at a rate of $750 per week.
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