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Governor Christie Signs Law Providing Special Benefits To Spouses Of Deceased Police And Fire Fighters

New Jersey Public Entity Law Monthly – Vol. II, Issue 6

By: John H. Geaney, Esq.

In a piece of special legislation, Governor Christopher Christie signed into law Senate, No. 1469, on June 13, 2013.  The bill pertains to dependency benefits for surviving spouses of certain fire and police personnel who die in the line of duty.

Under current law in New Jersey, surviving spouses are entitled to dependency benefits of 70% of wages but such benefits end on remarriage.  In the event that remarriage occurs during the first 450 week period, the spouse is entitled to receive the remainder of the compensation which would have been due the spouse had the spouse not remarried, or 100 times the amount of weekly compensation paid immediately preceding the remarriage, whichever is the lesser.

The new law treats a surviving spouse of a deceased member of the State Police or member of a fire or police department or force differently than all other surviving spouses in New Jersey.  For example, under existing law a surviving spouse of an employee who earned $1,200 per week and died in 2013 in the course of employment would receive the maximum rate of $826 per week.  If the spouse remarried during the first 450 weeks, for example at week 300, the spouse would receive 100 times that rate or $82,600 as the final payment.  Benefits would then terminate on account of remarriage.

The new legislation exempts surviving spouses of state police, fire fighters and police officers from the so-called “remarriage penalty.”  In the example above, the surviving spouse would continue to receive $826 per week for life whether or not she or he remarried.  Dependency benefits would only end at death of the surviving spouse for spouses of state police, police and fire fighters.

The law is not retroactive for those surviving spouses who already received a lump sum payment or remarried prior to the effective date of this legislation.

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