You have read here before that when filing for a modification in support in New Jersey, the movant must establish a substantial and continuing change in circumstances to fulfill the
We have previously blogged on the "rule of thumb", a dirty little secret used by judges and lawyers in New Jersey to come up with a "ball park" as to what alimony should be. This "rule of thumb" does not take into account all of the statutory factors. Rather, the formula simply subtracts the lower income (real or imputed) from the and multiplies the difference by a percentage. I have been told that that percentage is 30% or one-third in the northern part of the state and 25% in the southern part. Of course, judges really cannot use this formula and must make findings considering the law and all of the statutory factors which are:
(1) The actual need and ability of the parties to pay;
(2) The duration of the marriage or civil union;
(3) The age, physical and emotional health of the parties;
(4) The standard of living established in the marriage or civil union and the likelihood that each party can maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living;
(5) The earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability
of the parties;
(6) The length of absence from the job market of the party seeking maintenance;
(7) The parental responsibilities for the children;
(8) The time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to
enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment, the availability of the training and employment, and the opportunity for future acquisitions of capital assets and income;
(9) The history of the financial or nonfinancial contributions to the marriage or
civil union by each party including contributions to the care and education of
the children and interruption of personal careers or educational opportunities;
(10) The equitable distribution of property ordered and any payouts on equitable
distribution, directly or indirectly, out of current income, to the extent this consideration is reasonable, just and fair;
(11) The income available to either party through investment of any assets held by
(12) The tax treatment and consequences to both parties of any alimony award, including the designation of all or a portion of the payment as a non-taxable payment; and
(13) Any other factors which the court may deem relevant.
While these factors are supposed to be consider and the "rule of thumb" is not, we hear judge’s recommending settlements using this rule of thumb all of the time.…
Oftentimes, issues of custody and parenting time are the most difficult and sensitive decisions that a judge in the family part must make. It involves deliberation of the ever-elusive “best interests of the child” – a question with no right or wrong answers. While the standard is ostensibly subjective, there are certain guideposts that a judge must look to in order make the difficult determinations that come along with issues of custody. Those factors, as set forth in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c), include:
- The parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child;
- The parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow visitation that is not based upon substantiated abuse;
- The interactions and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings;
- Any history of domestic violence;
- The safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent;
- The preference of the child if the child is of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to make an intelligent decision;
- The needs of the child;
- The stability of the home environment offered;
- The quality and continuity of the child’s education;
- The fitness of the parents;
- The geographical proximity of the parents’ homes;
- The extent and quality of the time spent with child prior to or subsequent to the separation;
- The parents’ employment responsibilities;
- The age and number of children.
As can be seen in the recent case of Vidal v. Gelak (an unreported/non-precedential decision), when judges do not examine these all-important factors, their decisions face reversal and remand on appeal. …
Virtually every interspousal agreement contains a modification clause whereby the parties set forth procedures for subsequent enforceable modification. Many are constructed as follows:
No modification or waiver of any of the terms of this Agreement shall be valid unless: (1) in writing and executed by the party to be charged; or (2) ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction upon appropriate notice and upon an appropriate showing of changed circumstances as and if allowed under New Jersey law. The failure of either party to insist upon strict performance of any of the provisions of this Agreement shall not be deemed a waiver of any subsequent breach or default of any provision contained in this Agreement.
Note that there are two ways under this clause in which an agreement may be modified: (1) a subsequent writing; or (2) ordered by a court. As to the second, a court, generally, has the inherent power to modify support provisions of an agreement. Where an agreement restricts this power (such as would be the case in an agreement which contains a “non-modifiable” alimony obligation), the restriction will be upheld as long as it does not violate public policy.
However, for the purposes of this article, it is the first – modification by writing – as to which this article is addressed. Let’s take a look at the elements of the writing methodology:
(a) A writing; and
(b) Executed by the party to be charged.…
We have blogged countless times about a payor spouse’s efforts to modify his alimony obligation post-divorce by claiming that he has suffered a substantial and continuing change in his financial circumstances. When a court concludes that a change has occurred meriting modification, and implements a new modified support obligation, at what point should the modification become effective? When the payor spouse first filed for a modification? When a plenary hearing is held? At the conclusion of the entire matter?
Oftentimes, the payor spouse will claim that he has established a change in circumstances and, if the Court determines a plenary hearing is necessary and an intervening period of discovery, that a reduction be made in the interim pending the outcome of the hearing. Why is such a request appropriate? First, if the payor has established his initial burden of proving a change in circumstances, requiring him to continue paying at the current amount until completion of a hearing will likely ensure the ongoing accrual of arrears at the higher number. A Court’s refusal to grant such relief also incentivizes the payee spouse to drag out the matter indefinitely, since only the payor suffers without some form of interim relief. To that end, we recently had a matter where the Court declined our payor client’s request for interim relief pending the plenary hearing but later granted such relief because the payee spouse had deliberately dragged on the matter for months beyond that envisioned by the Court.
This issue was also recently addressed by the Appellate Division in its unpublished (not precedential) decision in Baker v. Baker. There, the payor spouse argued that the trial court erred by only retroactively reducing his alimony by one month – to August 1, 2010 – as opposed to either March 25, 2008 when payor filed his original motion to reduce alimony, or May 2, 2005 when he was involuntarily terminated from his position of employment precipitating his economic downward spiral.…
It is well-settled law in New Jersey that prior to the relocation of a child from the this state by a custodial parent on a permanent basis, the parent first must formally request leave from the Court. The court will then examine the move under the factors set forth in the seminal case Baures v. Lewis, which guides the court’s relocation inquiry. In Baures, the Court recognized three now-established legal principals:
1. The relocation standard is based upon a custodial parent’s right to seek happiness and fulfillment, which in turn, benefits the child.
2. Upon relocation, the non-custodial parent’s communication and exposure to the child must be sufficient to sustain that relationship.
3. Finally, the custodial parent must provide proof that the child would not suffer as a result of the move.
While Baures is proverbial gospel when it comes to relocation from the State of New Jersey, an interesting question arose in the Ocean County trial Court in McKinley v. Naters, which was approved for publication (binding opinion) on April 13, 2011. Namely, the McKinley case examined whether the court should grant a contested application for a temporary removal of a child to another state for “extended vacation purposes” prior to a formal relocation hearing under Baures?
The parties in McKinley were divorced on December 10, 2002. They share one child together, whom the Court referred to as H.M. At the time of the divorce, the parties agreed to share residential (physical) custody of H.M.…
As a follow up to my blog post of last week, this week the Appellate Division came down with yet another cohabitation decision. The case of Pizzuti v. Proctor was decided on March 31, 2011. In Pizzuti, the wife appealed from a decision wherein the trial court terminated her former husband’s alimony obligation of $100 per week on a finding of changed circumstances based on the wife’s cohabitation with an unrelated male.
At the trial level the husband submitted a myriad of proofs that the wife was cohabitating in support of his obligation to terminate alimony. His efforts were for naught however, because the fact that she was cohabitating went completely uncontested. Indeed, in response to the husband’s allegations, the wife stated as follows: “I will spare the Court the trouble of scheduling a plenary hearing because I admit that I do cohabitate with Mr. Argenzio at his home, located [in] Ramsey, New Jersey and have been since 1999.” However, as I stated in my previous blog, proof of cohabitation is only half the battle. The next inquiry is whether, by virtue of the cohabitation, the wife was economically dependant on her new paramour. In New Jersey, the fact of economic dependence is presumed upon a showing of cohabitation, and it is incumbent the cohabitating spouse to prove otherwise.…
As a matrimonial lawyer, I often get the question "how old does a child have to be to decide who they get to live with?" There is a perception out there that there is a magic age where a child is empowered to decide which parent they get to live with. This simply is not the case.
Rather, a child’s preference is only one factor a court must consider when deciding custody. Why is the child’s preference not absolutely determinative? Because it is not always reliable and may not be in their best interests. Maybe the child is too young or too immature for their preference to be relied upon alone. Maybe one parent is improperly influencing or pressuring a child to express a preference that is not their true preference. Maybe the child feels bad for and/or feels the need to take care of the parent because of some physical or mental infirmity of the parent or a feeling that the parent is the victim of the other parent. Perhaps the child has been promised something by the other parent or is trying to play one parent against the other. Perhaps the child (maybe a teen) feels that the other parent will give them more freedom.
This issue becomes even more difficult after an initial custody determination is made or agreed to and then a child expresses a preference to live with the other parent. That was the issue in the unreported (non-precedential) decision in the case of Traynor n/k/a Dallara v. Traynor decided on March 29, 2011. In this case, the father appealed the denial of his motion to change the custody of his 11 year old daughter who allegedly decided that she wanted to live with him.…
It seems as though a wave of cohabitation cases has recently swept across the Appellate Division in New Jersey. And for good reason. While well-settled is the concept that a supported spouse’s cohabitation typically will constitute a change of circumstances sufficient to justify end of a supporting spouse’s alimony obligation, the nuances of the law can be quite involved. This can been seen from the Appellate Division’s February decision in the case of Wonderlin v. Wonderlin, on which Sandra Fava blogged. That holding came down to evidence of the times and frequency that an unrelated male came and went from a former wife’s home, which, the Appellate Division ruled, entitled a former husband to discovery on the issue of whether the wife was cohabitating.
While the comings and goings of an unrelated male can be one indicia of cohabitation, in the case of Okoshi-Wilson v. Wilson, the Appellate Division examined a different source to prove cohabitation: the wife’s earnings as compared to her expenditures. There, the husband moved for a termination of his alimony obligation on the basis of the wife’s cohabitation with an unrelated male.
It seemed, based on the proofs submitted, that the husband had always earned a significantly greater salary than the wife, with the wife only earning about $47,000 in 2008 after her alimony of $22,500 per year was considered, as compared to the husband’s $164,164 the year prior. Despite this fact, the wife was apparently living in a posh, three-bedroom Upper East Side apartment, which she clearly was unable to afford on her salary alone. As it turned out, also a tenant of the same apartment was an unrelated male by the name of Steven Macy. This revelation led to the husband’s application for a termination of his alimony obligations. During the hearing at the trial level, Okoshi admitted that she had been able to maintain her New York City residence, because she was Macy’s tenant, allegedly paying him only $135 per week in rent and household work such as watering the plants, purchasing food, and collecting the mail. She further testified that Macy and his daughter only stay at the apartment about five times per month. Okoshi had documents to support some of her assertions — a lease signed by her and Macy and receipts for rent she paid in cash. She denied any romantic involvement with Macy and said he does not support her in any way.…