Marital Lifestyle

A divorce action generally results in a Final Judgment of Divorce which dissolves the bonds  of matrimony – including the part about "in good times and bad . . . "  This however, is not always the case.  Certainly if two people have children together their relationship with each other, although different, will have to continue if they are to co-parent.  But what about a long term marriage at the end of which a Judge orders permanent alimony?  Through permanent alimony the financial relationship of two individuals live on "in good times and bad."

In a recent appellate division case, Knips v. Knips, the Court reversed the trial Court’s determination regarding alimony where, after thirty-four years of marriage and an award of $175 per week in permanent alimony, the plaintiff could not afford to lead a "legitimate middle-class" lifestyle.  As the Court in Knips states, "alimony is intended to allow the dependent spouse to live at the marital standard of living, not just ‘bare survival’" [emphasis added].  The idea is that If the parties enjoyed a middle-class lifestyle during the marriage, then the parties should be able to enjoy a similar lifestyle after the marriage.  If one party was mainly responsible for financially supporting that lifestyle, then a Court will likely order that they continue to be financially responsible (in the form of alimony payments).  And, if among other factors, the marriage was long enough then then Court will order that this financial responsibility be permanent (i.e. permanent alimony). Continue Reading Permanent Alimony: In Good Financial Times and In Bad

While the Appellate Division’s in the case of Tannen v. Tannen (addressed in another blog by Larry Cutler), primarily ruled that income paid to the divorcing wife as the beneficiary of a discretionary trust (the “WTT”) cannot be considered an asset available to fund alimony, that discussion naturally begged the question which was addressed in the second part of the case; namely – what effect does the actual income disbursed from the trust have on a determination of the needs of the parties in setting the alimony and child support obligation of the supporting spouse?

It is well-settled in New Jersey that the “marital standard of living” serves as the touchstone for the initial alimony award in a divorce. The standard of living during the marriage is the way the couple actually lived, whether they resorted to borrowing and parental support, or if they limited themselves to their earned income. The Court examines the couple’s “lifestyle expenses” in order to determine how much support is required by the dependent spouse to maintain that lifestyle support.

In Tannen, the trail judge sought to apply his conclusions regarding the parties’ lifestyle expenses to the calculation of the amount of support required by the dependent spouse to maintain that lifestyle. The judge acknowledged that the lifestyle expenses included those incurred by the parties and their children, however did not give any analysis as to the costs associated with the wife’s actual needs post-divorce in light of the fact that income was paid to her at least monthly by the WTT. He also failed to consider at all the husband’s post-divorce needs. The Appellate Division took issue.Continue Reading Tannen Continued: Income from Discretionary Trust Not Income, But Does it Reduce Need?

When determining an alimony award, New Jersey courts look at a variety of factors that are listed under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b).  At the very top of that list is "The actual need and ability of the parties to pay."  Similarly, when determining child support, one factor that courts in this State consider is "All sources of income and assets of each parent."  When determining a payor spouse’s income, courts will consider both the supporting spouse’s present earnings and potential earning capacity.

The question becomes more complicated when the payor spouse owns his or her own business.  Oftentimes tax returns do not tell the whole story and cannot be relied upon as the sole source for rendering an income determination.  For instance, that spouse may have a bank account under the business name, but uses it nevertheless for personal expenses.  Oftentimes such personal expenses are not accounted for on a tax return as income and it then becomes a matter of determining what the actual income level is.  Another example may involve the spouse being reimbursed through the business for personal travel expenses. Continue Reading Appellate Division Examines a Spouse’s Ability To Pay Support