Oftentimes, people seeking to modify downward their child support payment obligation will seek to do so as of the date that they allege the change in financial circumstances commenced, i.e., a loss of employment, suffering a disability, and the like.  To protect the existing "duty of support," however, New Jersey has a statute that expressly addresses the retroactive modification of child support payments.

N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.23a clearly states:

                [n]o payment or installment of an order for child support, or those portions of an order which are allocated for child support established prior to or subsequent to the effective date of [N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.23a], shall be retroactively modified by the court except with respect to the period during which there is a pending application for modification, but only from the date the notice of motion was mailed either directly or through the appropriate agent.  The written notice will state that a change of circumstances has occurred and a motion for modification of the order will be filed within 45 days. In the event a motion is not filed within the 45-day period, modification shall be permitted only from the date the motion is filed with the court.

The law is, therefore, clear – retroactive implementation of a child support modification may only be made back to when the other party is put on written notice that a change of circumstances has occurred and a motion to address the issue will be filed within 45 days of such notice.  Where the motion is not timely filed within that 45-day period, the retroactive implementation may only be made back to the date when the motion is actually filed. 

Continue Reading When and How Can Child Support Be Retroactively Modified?

On May 21, 2010, the Appellate Division issued a reported (precedential) opinion in Colca v. Anson involving different aspects of child support and college support.  This case reinforces several principles regarding child support and payment of college expenses that we already knew (which makes it somewhat surprising that it was reported) but nevertheless is a good reminder of certain basic principles. 

The first of these principles is that child support belongs to the child and thus cannot be waived by a parent or for that matter, by a court.  This comes up in two contexts in this case.  First, in a 2005 Order, for whatever reason, the trial court denied the father’s request for child support for the parties’ daughter who was in college.  In another motion in 2008, the father sought child support again.  Thinking that the matter had previously been decided by the court and that there were no changes of circumstances, the mother did not even file a Case Information Statement. 

The trial court disagreed with the mother’s position that the prior Order was forever binding and required a showing of changed circumstances, pointing out that the duty to support a child continues until emancipation.

In addition, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision that the child’s inheritance could not be considered with regard to support.  While perhaps correct as to child support, there are not enough facts given in this opinion about how much was really in dispute. That said, the Child Support Guidelines suggest an adjustment to child support may be required if a child has an extraordinarily high income.  Also, in the famous NJ case on college expenses, Newburgh v. Arrigo, which we have blogged on many times before, a child’s assets are a factor to be considered.  Since the college was at issue in this case, one wonders why the inheritance was not considered here.

Continue Reading A Decision To Not Require Child Support Is Not Binding on Future Court To Hear Matter – Child Support Cannot Be Waived

If a dependent spouse starts living with an unrelated adult after the divorce, is that enough to terminate the supporting spouse’s alimony obligation? While the answer to that question is not as simple as one would think, it is an issue that often arises, especially in a troubled economy where many supporting spouses are having a more difficult time meeting their payment obligations.

In New Jersey, “cohabitation” is considered a “changed circumstance” allowing the supporting spouse to seek an alimony reduction by first obtaining discovery and then demonstrating that the dependent spouse’s needs have either decreased because the third person is contributing to the dependent spouse’s support or is effectively subsidizing the dependent spouse at the supporting spouse’s expense. What, however, is meant by cohabitation? Courts in this state have concluded that it does not merely mean a so-called dating relationship, but, rather, involves a relationship described as having the “generic character of a family unit as a relatively permanent household” where there exists an “intimate relationship in which the couple has undertaken duties and privileges that are commonly associated with marriage.” What does that mean? Since each situation is different, a court will look at a given set of facts for the marital-type relationship including, but not limited to, a joint residence, joint/connected finances, shared living expenses and performance of household tasks, and the relationship is held out in this way to the community, social groups, and family.

Once the supporting spouse establishes the changed circumstance of cohabitation, the burden of proof then shifts to the dependent spouse to prove that he or she has derived no economic benefit from proven cohabitation. The reason that the burden shift is simple – the dependent spouse has greater access to relevant information than does the supporting spouse to disprove a cohabitation benefit.

Continue Reading Cohabitation and the Shifting Burden of Proof

Under New Jersey law, a party of a divorce can seek modification of an order for child support or alimony if there is a “change of circumstance” that affects the income or earning ability of one of the parties.  Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139 (1980).  This proposition is one of the most common reasons for post-judgment motions in New Jersey Family law courts, especially in the current economy.  But in a recent unpublished New Jersey Appellate Division decision, Good v. Nedza, the Court affirmed a post-trial order, which did not permit a recalculation of child support or arrears because one of the parties failed to act on information they had obtained years earlier and had at the time when the parties entered a Consent Order for child support.

In Good, the parties were divorced in 2002.  At the time, Mr. Good was the primary provider and the wife, Ms. Nedza, was a homemaker.  The parties had three children.  They agreed that Mr. Good would pay child support and alimony, and they would share joint legal custody of the children with Ms. Nedza having primary residential custody.  Over the years circumstances changed.  By September 2005, all of the children were residing with Mr. Good and his child support obligation was terminated.  A Consent Order entered in January 2006 addressed Ms. Nedza’s child support obligation to Mr. Good.

Continue Reading Modification of Child Support – When to File

We have blogged several times as to a former spouse’s attempt to obtain an alimony or child support reduction based on the existence of substantial and continuing changed circumstances impacting the spouse’s ability to pay, as set forth by the New Jersey Supreme Court in Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139 (1980).  One of the so-called recognized changed circumstances set forth in Lepis is "illness, disability or infirmity" arising after a support Order was first entered. 

An interesting question might arise as to whether a payor spouse claiming an illness or disability as the basis for changed circumstances is really trying to engage in a bad faith form of early, voluntary retirement in order to avoid paying support.  Generally, a retirement when the spouse hits age 65 may justify a support reduction so long as it was made in good faith.  Where the retirement occurs before age 65, however, a Court will look even more closely at the facts to see to what degree the retiring spouse benefits from his retirement compared to the disadvantage suffered by the dependent spouse.

Further, while a temporary change in circumstances, such as through the loss of employment, is generally not enough to obtain a support reduction, what about the reduction of support for a specific, limited period of time?  For instance, New Jersey courts have granted this type of reduction where the payor spouse has been imprisoned or cohabitated with another for a specific period of time.