Articles Posted in Alimony and Spousal Support

The economy and the workforce have been changing rapidly in the face of technological advances, as well as from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some ongoing family law monetary obligations, such as child support and alimony awards, may require modification as years go by and the earning ability of certain professions changes with the times. The Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court recently affirmed a family court’s judgment to reduce a payor’s alimony obligation based on the fact that he was unable to earn the same amount as he could at the time the parties agreed to the initial settlement.

According to the facts discussed in the recently released appellate opinion, the parties were married from 1999 to 2012, and the husband was the primary earner, earning over $150,000 annually in the advertising industry by the time the parties separated. As part of a divorce settlement agreement, the man agreed to pay approximately $3,000 per month in alimony, in addition to child support. After the divorce was finalized, the man claimed he was unable to make the complete payments, and requested the court reduce his alimony obligation.

The man argued that the advertising field had changed in recent years and “gone digital”, and that he had aged out of the industry. As part of his modification motion, the man submitted that he had been trying to seek higher-paying jobs both in and out of the advertising industry, but he was unable to find any employment that paid enough to fulfill his alimony obligations. Ultimately, the man accepted work in a new industry and took a pay cut of more than 50% from what he was earning when the divorce was finalized. Initially, the trial court ruled that the man did not make a “good faith effort” at finding new employment, but after receiving some guidance from the Appellate Division, the trial court modified the man’s alimony obligation to approximately $400 per month, which he was able to afford.

New Jersey family courts can award alimony as part of a divorce for various reasons. Primarily, courts order alimony payments to allow the lesser-earning spouse to maintain a lifestyle close to that which was experienced during the marriage. Because of this, in cases involving a long marriage and significant assets, an alimony award can total millions of dollars over a lifetime, or even more.

Alimony can also be awarded on a more temporary basis. Sometimes it is awarded to rehabilitate one spouse into a position to earn more once the term of alimony has expired, and other times to compensate spouses involved in relatively short marriages, where an open durational alimony award would not be fair or appropriate. The Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court recently addressed a claim by a woman that the alimony she was awarded in her divorce was unjustifiably rescinded by the lower court

According to the facts discussed in the recently published opinion, the parties involved had been married for several years, shared two children, and executed a divorce in 2007. As part of the divorce settlement, the ex-husband (the defendant) agreed to pay the plaintiff “rehabilitative alimony” for a period of five years after the divorce. Shortly after the divorce was finalized, the plaintiff became permanently disabled and sought to have the temporary alimony extended to become permanent based on her disability. Although the court denied the plaintiff’s request to extend alimony payments in 2012, the defendant continued to pay alimony to the plaintiff until 2021.

After a divorce, individuals may get into new relationships. This can affect many aspects of their life, including, who they spend time the majority of their time with and even their financial situation. In some instances, when a new relationship results in the partners living together, the ex-spouse may request a reduction or termination in their alimony payments. In a recent New Jersey case, an appellate court was tasked with determining whether a woman was cohabitating with her new partner, which would result in a termination of alimony payments from her ex-husband. Ultimately, the court determined that the ex-husband did not present enough evidence to prove his former wife and her new fiancée were cohabitating—thus, there was no termination of alimony payments.

In this case, the former couple was married for over twenty-four years before getting a divorce. During their final divorce proceedings, they signed a marital settlement agreement, which provided that if the wife cohabitated with a future romantic partner, the husband could request an alimony review that could result in a termination of alimony. Seven years after the signing of the agreement, the ex-husband moved to terminate his alimony obligation because he claimed his ex-wife was living with her new fiancée.

The defendant argued that the cohabitation provision in the marital settlement agreement was triggered because the ex-wife and her fiancée had been in a continuous relationship for over six years, and the fiancée played a critical role in his and the ex-wife’s youngest child’s life—including attending dance recitals, paying for family dinners and driving her to the airport. However, the lower court ruled that the ex-husband did not meet the standard for cohabitation under New Jersey law.

When a person’s financial situation changes—either positively or negatively—it can impact other aspects of the person’s life as well. This may include being able to pay for groceries, rent, or even alimony. In a recent New Jersey case, the appellate court was tasked with determining whether a consent order signed after the ex-husband purportedly lost a majority of his income was enforceable. Ultimately, the court ruled the consent order was not conscionable considering it was entered under fraudulent circumstances.

In this case, the couple was married for more than thirty years before divorcing in January of 2011. The divorce settlement included an agreement that the ex-husband, who was the Chief Scientific Officer of a major company, agreed to pay the ex-wife $12,000 per month in alimony. A few years later, the ex-husband was let go from his job. He then filed a motion asking to reduce his alimony payments as he was disabled and unable to work at the time. The parties then settled and reduced the alimony payment to $3,200 per month in a consent order. However, the ex-wife later learned the ex-husband was re-employed and was not actually disabled to the point of being unable to work. She sought to vacate the Consent Order. The court below agreed with the ex-wife and vacated the Consent Order—thus reinstituting the ex-wife’s alimony payments of $12,000 per month.

The ex-husband argued that the lower court should not have reinstated the initial alimony payments by vacating the Consent Order. He explained that the ex-wife did not prove the consent order was secured by fraud—meaning him lying about being disabled and unable to work.

When life throws you a curve ball, your financial circumstances may change, so too may your ability to make alimony payments. Modifying, reducing, or terminating New Jersey alimony payments, however, can often be a tricky and complex legal situation. For parties considering such a change, it is crucial that you evaluate all of your options under state law to ensure the best chances of success.

In a recent Superior Court of New Jersey opinion, the court considered a case concerning the termination of alimony. The parties were married for nearly 13 years before getting divorced and agreeing to $100,000 a year in alimony, broken down into monthly payments. The plaintiff eventually moved to terminate alimony payments, arguing that an increase in the defendant’s income by $80,000 constituted a change in circumstances. The motion judge, however, found that the plaintiff failed to prove a change in circumstances warranting a modification of alimony. The judge further claimed that the plaintiff’s credibility was compromised and his arguments were unconvincing to warrant a change.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the judge failed to enforce the terms of the couple’s agreement and instead rewrote the parties’ contract. The Superior Court of New Jersey sided with the lower court’s decision on the issue and rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the judge rewrote the parties’ contract. Because the judge assessed the totality of the circumstances, including the negotiation of the parties’ agreement, the judge was both able to understand the context of the agreement but also the parties’ intent when crafting the language.

Alimony, otherwise known as financial support that a person must pay to their spouse following a separation or divorce, is a common part of many divorce settlements. However, when things change, and the party responsible for paying the alimony is no longer able to because of extenuating circumstances, what does the law say? If you are experiencing significant hardships or obstacles in meeting your New Jersey alimony obligations, are you able to terminate or modify your obligations?

In a recent Superior Court of New Jersey opinion, the court considered a case involving termination of alimony obligations in light of extenuating circumstances. In the case at hand, the parties divorced in 2006 after a 26-year marriage and negotiated a Property Settlement Agreement (the “Agreement”). Based on the Agreement, the wife agreed to pay her husband $300 per week in alimony. Several years after the divorce, the wife experienced many significant health and medical issues, including a brain tumor, which forced her to retire from her job. She ceased making alimony payments to her husband and moved to terminate her alimony obligation. The husband opposed the motion. Following oral arguments, the trial court terminated the wife’s alimony obligations, and the husband appealed.

On appeal, the court sided with the wife and affirmed the trial court’s decision. Because of the wife’s extenuating circumstances, such as her retirement and significant health issues, the court held that in light of her retirement and poor health, along with sufficient financial documents from the parties, the trial court had properly analyzed the dispute. Further, the wife was 66 years old, was at a good-faith retirement age, and her health was proof of further changed circumstances that would warrant a modification or termination of her alimony responsibilities.

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