Articles Posted in Divorce Lawyering

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.

In the course of a New Jersey divorce, the parties often enter into agreements that discuss future splits of costs and expenditures, sometimes called a Property Settlement Agreement (PSA) or Matrimonial Settlement Agreement (MSA). For example, parties often will include provisions in these agreements on who will pay for future college costs for their children, or for extracurricular activities. Sometimes, however, circumstances change after these initial agreements are made, and one party may seek to reduce his or her originally agreed-upon financial obligations. This often is much easier said than done—and must be based on a meritorious claim.

In a recent Superior Court of New Jersey opinion, the court considered a divorced couple’s obligations toward their sons’ college costs. The parties had four sons during their twenty-year marriage. When they divorced, they entered into a PSA, which included a provision that would divide the costs of college and secondary education evenly between the two parties.

The plaintiff filed a motion to reduce his child support obligation, which failed when the trial court required the plaintiff to still contribute 50 percent of college costs for two of his sons. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that he should not be obligated to pay for his two sons’ college expenses because he did not agree to their choice of schools.

Like so many divorce lawyers, I have been asked these questions countless times, both by clients, friends, acquaintances, and sometimes, even fellow lawyers. Usually, the questions are asked with a sense of puzzlement as to why someone would voluntarily choose divorce law.

These questions, and their many variations, never fail to elicit a wry, knowing smile from me, as I managed to become a divorce lawyer by pure chance. In law school, I concentrated in criminal law classes and clinics and found this area of law very interesting and challenging. After law school, I was lucky enough to obtain a judicial clerkship with Judge Vincent LeBlon in Middlesex County, who, at the time, was assigned to the Criminal Part. Shortly before my clerkship began, I learned that Judge LeBlon was to be rotated to the Family Part; hence, I too was being rotated to the Family Part. My initial reaction was not entirely a happy one because, after all, how does one do that kind of nasty, distasteful work?

Initially, I found the work of a Family Law Clerk to be emotionally taxing. As time went on, it became less so and eventually, I gained a deep appreciation of how the Court struggled to bring calm and order to sometimes chaotic family situations. I got to know many members of the family law bar, most from Middlesex County, and developed a great deal of respect for many of them.

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