Modification of Alimony

It is well-settled law in New Jersey that child support and alimony awards are always modifiable. While there is an abundance of case law in the area of post-judgment modifications of support obligations, particularly in this economic climate, the most often cited case for modification is the seminal New Jersey case of Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139 (1980). Indeed, the Lepis Court was the first in holding that when changed circumstances substantially impinge upon the supporting spouse’s ability to pay support at the level ordered, a modification of the support order might be necessary. The burden to prove this change in circumstances falls upon the supporting spouse when such a downward modification is sought.

A reduction in the supporting spouse’s income has long been recognized as a changed circumstance warranting a support modification, so long as it is not temporary in nature. In addition, the recent Appellate Division case of Angelastro v. Angelastro, recently solidified the notion that a support modification may be sought when the supported spouse’s economic circumstances change for the better.

In Angelastro, the parties’ property settlement agreement, executed in September of 2008, awarded the wife alimony as follows:

The [h]usband shall pay to the [w]ife[,] starting at the sale of the marital home[,] the sum of $350[] a week in [a]limony commencing for a period of six (6) years. Upon the completion of aforementioned six (6) years[,] the [h]usband’s [a]limony obligation shall reduce to that of $200[] and continue for a period of eight (8) years thereafter representing a total payment period of fourteen (14) years.

In addition, child support in the amount of $200 per week was provided for. The parties’ property settlement agreement specifically predicated the above support awards upon the wife’s imputed income of approximately $25,000.

Continue Reading Changed Circumstances Is A Two Way Street, the Appellate Division Says

If you have been through the process of divorce and have a spousal support obligation to your ex, you should have been advised that aside from explicitly stating an end date for your spousal support obligation, there are few ways to end the payments.  Death is certainly one of them.  If your ex remarries that is a second.  What happens when your ex is living with someone else?

The issue of cohabitation has been dealt with by the courts in NJ in case law since the 1970’s.  The issue in and of itself is not new.  How the courts have dealt with allowing parties to prove the issue has been somewhat fuzzy, until a recent unpublished Appellate Division decision provided what seems like some much needed, long time coming, guidance.  If you haven’t already, take a look at Wonderlin v. Wonderlin .

So what’s the guidance- well let’s start with the basic principles cases like Konzelman v. Konzelman, 158 NJ 185 (1999) and Gayet v. Gayet, 92 NJ 149 (1983) have given us.  In Gayet, the court told us we need to look at whether the cohabitating couple bears the “generic character of a family unit as a relatively permanent household”.  In Konzelman, the court told us that the relationship in question needed to show signs of “stability, permanency and mutual interdependence”.  The proof required is that “of an intimate relationship in which the couple has undertaken duties and privileges that are commonly associated with marriage” which include but are not limited to “living together, intertwined finances such as joint bank accounts, sharing living expenses and household chores, and recognition of the relationship in the couple’s social and family circle”.  The problem for litigant’s and practitioners alike has been, how do you prove such intimate details at first blush so as to convince a court that you have met your burden of proof and now the alleged cohabitating ex must produce evidence to show there is no economic benefit of the relationship and the spousal support is still needed?

Continue Reading I Think My Ex Is Cohabitating – Now What?

I tell virtually every client I work with that the Case Information Statement which must be completed by anyone going through the formal divorce process in NJ is one of the most important documents to be completed – arguably, the most important document.

The recent unpublished decision of Raesky v. Brody, A-6148-08T1, decided May 26, 2010, reinforces my mantra.  When completing a Case Information Statement it is important to be honest (it’s a document signed under oath with the risk of penalty for perjury), realistic, and thorough.  The budget, assets and liabilities listed on this document will assist a judge in determining the issues of spousal support and the division of assets.  These statements are the maps which judges follow to lead them to a final determination of these issues.

By over inflating  your budget, you give the other side the ability to poke holes at your credibility.  Sometimes the thinking that the higher my budget the more money I can get may backfire, as it appears to have done for Ms. Brody.  Also, in the case where the budget is artificially low, the payor spouse’s credibility will be questioned.  If it is the payee spouse with an inaccurately low budget, they run the risk of receiving inadequate support and thus they’re unable to meet their needs let alone maintain even a semblance of the marital standard of living.

Continue Reading Alimony Lessons from Raesky v. Brody

In an interesting unreported opinion in the case of Tiger v. Tiger released on April 21, 2010, the Appellate Division affirmed an Order enforcing a Property Settlement Agreement and post-judgment Consent Order and denying the husband’s request for an ability to pay hearing regarding alimony and the remainder of his equitable distribution obligation.

After a 35 year marriage, the parties were divorced in 2005 and the husband was required to pay short term alimony and $150,000 in equitable distribution over 4 years.  The husband failed to pay his 2007 and 2008 obligations but never filed a motion seeking modification.  The wife, however, filed an enforcement motion in 2007 and the husband was ordered to pay the $40,000 owed.  The husband filed a motion for reconsideration wherein his alimony was reduced from $70,000 to $50,000 and he was granted more time to pay his equitable distribution payment.  He then failed to pay his 2008 equitable distribution payment and another enforcement motion ensued.  A plenary hearing was ordered as a result but the hearing never happened because the parties entered into a Consent Order wherein the husband agreed not to seek to modify the equitable distribution again and not to seek to modify the alimony before 1/1/10. Not surprisingly, he failed to comply and another enforcement motion was filed in late 2008. The husband used the economic situation in the real estate industry as a reason for his non-compliance.  The trial court denied his motion finding that the husband was a sophisticated business man who entered into the consent order will full knowledge of the economic situation in the real estate industry.  The appeal ensued.

Continue Reading Just Enough Rope – Ex-Husband’s Attempt To Further Delay Paying Equitable Distribution Is Denied

What happens when a dependent spouse begins living with another partner? Well, in the recent unpublished decision of Hartelust v. Hartelust the Appellate Division reviewed this question. Docket No. A-2519-08T3, decided January 12, 2010. 

Plaintiff Nora Hartelust appealed from an August 1, 2008 Order that terminated Defendant Alexander Hartelust’s alimony obligation.   After twenty years of marriage the couple was divorced in January 2007. The judgment of divorce incorporated the property settlement agreement (PSA).   At the time, the couple had a fifteen year old child, Alexander was earning $60,000/year and Nora was earning $15,000 per year. The PSA stated that Alexander would pay $175 per week in child support, $220 per week in permanent alimony, and transfer his ownership in the marital home to Nora. The PSA did not address cohabitation.

Continue Reading Hello Cohabitation. Goodbye Alimony.