With the economic downturn and slow down in the economy since 2008, there has been a lot more post-judgment litigation to reduce alimony and child support. Much of this litigation has been legitimate; other has been brought by opportunists, throwing around buzzwords and crying about the economy when there is really no substantial change of circumstance. Moreover, there is no uniformity as to what a "substantial change of circumstance" really is and judges have been all over the map, from judge to judge and county to county.
One would think that after a 17 month job search that culminated in the alimony obligor accepting a job where he had a two hour commute to Pennsylvania and which resulted in a 22% reduction in his income from the time of the divorce would be a no-brainer substantial change of circumstances. If you thought that, you would be wrong. In fact, the trial judge in the case of Austin v. Austin did not find this to be a change of circumstances. The Appellate Division, in an unreported (non-precedential) decision released on December 6, 2012 reversed finding this to be "Lepis quality change of circumstance."
Even then, there may not be an automatic reduction in alimony. The Appellate Division stated:
We do not suggest that the Family Part must reduce plaintiff’s alimony obligation. The trial court should conduct an evidentiary hearing in the event further review of the record
reveals a genuine issue of material fact. We leave open to the Family Part’s discretion to what extent, if any, the totality of the circumstances impels a permanent change in the alimony component of the PSA. However, that court must now treat plaintiff’s current employment situation and lessened income (and defendant’s present health concerns) as significant vectors affecting the ultimate determination of a fair and reasonable
Because there is no uniformity as to what a "Lepis quality change of circumstances" is, and because these cases are determined on a case by case basis, I suspect we will continue to see these decisions all over the map.
Eric Solotoff is the editor of the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and the Co-Chair of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Lawyer and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, Eric practices in Fox Rothschild’s Roseland, New Jersey office though he practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Eric at (973)994-7501, or firstname.lastname@example.org.