Court Must Address Doctor’s Opinion as Evidence In New Jersey Divorce Proceedings

An appellate court recently issued a per curiam opinion in a defendant’s appeal of a decision regarding his alimony obligation. During the parties’ New Jersey divorce proceedings, the parties agreed that the defendant must pay permanent alimony. The agreements did not contain an anti-Lepis provision, or any provisions addressing modifications because of a change in circumstances. The parties agreed that the plaintiff maintain a 29.25% interest in the defendant’s business.

About two years after the alimony agreement, the defendant argued that the plaintiff was cohabitating with her partner and asked the court to terminate his alimony obligation. The parties agreed to place a time limit on the defendant’s alimony obligations. Further, the negotiations addressed whether the court may terminate the defendant’s obligations because of disability. In addition, the order contained an anti-Lepis provision and barred any modification during 2019-2026, for any reason, except catastrophic physical disability.

Starting in 2019, the defendant failed to make alimony payments, explaining that he was experiencing financial difficulties. In response, the plaintiff filed a motion to enforce the alimony order. The defendant cross-motioned to vacate the order. In the alternative, he motioned to rescind the anti-Lepis provision, modify the obligation based on impossibility, and schedule a hearing regarding his capacity to consent.

An anti-Lepis clause is a provision in a marital agreement where the parties waive the right to modify an alimony or child support provision. This type of clause is enforceable under certain conditions. The agreement must include language that the parties agree “with full knowledge of all present and foreseeable future circumstances.” Further, the parties must establish criteria for payment. In this case, the defendant’s argument hinged on his inability to consent to the provision.

The defendant attached psychiatric evaluation reports, indicating that the defendant experienced “recklessness, hypersexual behavior, financial irresponsibility, and irritable” behavior. Various psychiatrists found that the defendant’s behavior was consistent with either bipolar I or bipolar II. The judge concluded that the defendant’s assertions were inconsistent and contradictory.

The appellate court found that the judge did not mention the defendant’s expert reports regarding his psychiatric treatment or lack of capacity to consent. The court then cited long-held New Jersey policies favoring “consensual agreements to resolve controversies.” Further, judges should not unnecessarily disturb fair and equitable consent agreements. However, modifications are appropriate in certain circumstances. In this case, the motion judge rejected the defendant’s assertions without addressing any psychiatric findings. As such, the appellate court remanded the case, requiring the motion judge to specifically address the doctor’s opinion.

Contact a New Jersey Family Law Attorney

If you or someone you know is going through a New Jersey divorce proceeding or experiencing legal challenges after your divorce has been finalized, contact the law office of attorney Jeffrey R. Brown. Attorney Brown is an experienced New Jersey family law attorney. He handles New Jersey divorce, child support, child custody, modification and enforcement, emancipation, motions, and annulments. Contact the Office of Jeffrey R. Brown, at 732-613-0066, to schedule a no-obligation consultation to discuss your New Jersey family law matters.

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