If you were a made-for-TV junkie in the 90s, then you know the true-life divorce story in A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story, portrayed by Meredith Baxter. In the movie - and in real life - attorney Dan Broderick divorced Betty, his wife of 16 years, to marry his secretary after she worked to pay his way through med school and law school and raise their 4 children. A lawyer and insider who was friendly with all the local attorneys, judges and divorce experts, Dan manipulated the court system and California divorce laws to make sure he received full custody of the children, the marital home and complete control over Betty’s finances - until Betty killed both him and his bride while they slept in her old bedroom. Betty was sentenced 32 years to life in prison and is still incarcerated today. The trial and 1992 movie (still playing on YouTube) fascinated the public and terrified divorcing women.
The Betty Broderick case is back in the headlines in a new TV series, Dirty John - The Betty Broderick Story on the USA Network. Starring Amanda Peet, the updated version provides more details into the ways Dan Broderick manipulated the divorce court and gaslit Betty by emotionally abusing and driving her insane with fury. The attorney at her second murder trial claimed Betty was a battered wife.
While fortunately most divorce cases don’t end up in murder, it wasn’t unusual for a woman to be left without sufficient alimony or spousal support if her ex-spouse could hire an expensive divorce attorney. Could what happened to Betty happen today in New Jersey?
Important Changes to New Jersey Divorce Laws Since 1990
New Jersey divorce and family law has changed since the late 1980s when the Betty Broderick divorce case went to trial in California:
- Alimony Reform
In September of 2014, alimony reform laws took effect in New Jersey and made alimony determinations fairer. Women were no longer required to prove “fault” in order to receive alimony if they were divorced by their husbands, and the duration of the marriage impacted the length of the alimony period.
- Unmarried Partners
New Jersey law does not provide unmarried cohabitants with the same rights as married cohabitants. However, today certain NJ family law cases have resulted in partner alimony lawsuits that provide a “fair and equitable dissolution of a family-type relationship.”
- Emotional Abuse
Divorce petitioners in New Jersey can file for divorce based on fault. The available grounds for a fault-based divorce include “extreme cruelty,” including physical or emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is not a criterion for awarding spousal support in New Jersey, but judges are allowed to consider “any other factors which the court may deem relevant,” such as abuse.
Alimony and Spousal Support
One thing that has not changed since the Betty Broderick story is that too often in order to get a fair divorce settlement, many individuals - men and women - need to hire a divorce or family law attorney to fight for them in court. In some cases, a divorce can be settled through mediation or a collaborative divorce. But in many cases, particularly with high net worth couples who have been married a long time, one partner needs to be protected by the legal system to receive a fair and equitable divorce.
Spousal support or alimony are important, long-lasting outcomes of a divorce. At Stolfe Zeigler New Jersey Family Law Group, we help achieve favorable alimony or spousal support determinations on behalf of our clients, regardless of whether they are the one who will be paying or receiving support. Our attorneys work tirelessly to find a resolution that works for your unique situation, no matter how complex or contentious the case may be.
If you need an alimony or spousal support attorney in New Jersey, contact Stolfe Zeigler New Jersey Family Law Group at (732) 585-1651 today.