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.