Property Settlement Agreements (PSAs)

graduation child

A recent Appellate Division case reminds us of the potential pitfalls of negotiating contingent issues in property settlement agreements, specifically as it relates to contribution to future college costs of children born of the marriage.

In Zegarski v. Zegarski, the parties had four children, with the two oldest already attending in-state college at the

The Appellate Division’s newly published (precedential) decision in Avelino-Catabran v. Catabran provides another lesson to practitioners and litigants about the language used in settlement agreements and how such language, if unambiguous and without basis to modify, will likely be upheld in matrimonial matters.  The specific dispute involved college payments for the parties’ older child and

Recently I lost a dear client and friend, Bill*, after his long battle with brain cancer.  Bill was a man with a kind-hearted spirit and a gentle disposition – one of those “really nice guys” that you just wanted to bend over backwards to help.

While Bill was fortunate enough to spend his last days

Most, if not almost every matrimonial settlement agreement that I have seen contains language providing that modifications to the agreement must be in writing to be effective.  What happens, then, when an agreement is orally modified, and then the parties abide by that oral modification?  This was one of the issues on appeal in the

Following up on my most recent blog post discussing pressure tactics used by one spouse against the other to force an inequitable settlement, I wanted to focus on the example where one spouse tries to “get around” the lawyers to privately discuss settlement with the other spouse.  In my prior entry, I noted that a financially superior spouse will often take this tack to impose his desired terms of settlement upon the other spouse.  The day after the Court enters a Judgment of Divorce ending the marriage, the financially inferior spouse wakes up and regrets the deal she just made.

While I am not generally against the notion of spouses talking to each other in an effort to resolve their matter, the involvement of lawyers is key for conveying notions of what is fair or unfair.  Here are a few questions that come to mind:

1.  How do you know whether the alimony and child support are fair?

2.  How do you know whether the equitable distribution is fair?

3.  How do you know what is an appropriate custody and parenting time arrangement?

4.  How do you know what you are entitled to under the law as a spouse, parent and litigant?


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All too often one spouse will pressure the other to settle an ongoing case, using finances, custody, or some other issue to force an inequitable end to a matter.  This comes up all the time, yet the pressured spouse frequently doesn’t realize that it is happening, whether it is because she trusts her soon to

Most people are aware that a supporting spouse may be entitled to modify an alimony obligation upon a showing of “changed circumstances.” However, many people do not know that the “leg-work” that they have to do to set themselves up to succeed on such a Motion begins long before the parties ever go to Court, especially if a supporting spouse is asking for relief on the basis of a purported job loss or reduction in income.

Below is a non-exhaustive list of items that a Judge will look for when a supporting spouse is requesting to reduce his or her alimony obligations:

• Has the applicant proven that his/her circumstances have changed such that he/she would be entitled to a child support or alimony reduction – Common scenarios constituting changed circumstances include:
       o A reduction in a party’s income;
       o Illness;
       o Retirement;
       o The receipt of an influx of liquid assets;
       o Cohabitation of the supported spouse.


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As a continuation to my alimony-themed posts, the particular issue that is the subject of this blog post may come as a surprise to some supporting spouses; namely, the fact that the term and amount of a limited duration alimony obligation can be lengthened in some rare circumstances.

New Jersey Courts do have authority to modify the amount and term limited duration alimony. In the case of modifications of limited duration alimony, the alimony statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(c), provides as follows:

An award of alimony for a limited duration may be modified based either upon changed circumstances, or upon the nonoccurrence of circumstances that the court found would occur at the time of the award. The court may modify the amount of such an award, but shall not modify the length of the term except in unusual circumstances.

Rothfeld v. Rothfeld (App. Div. 2008), while unpublished, is just one example of this portion of the statute in action. In Rothfeld, the parties divorced after an approximately seven (7) year marriage. They had two (2) children: Jonathan, who was born on September 19, 1996; and Martin, who was born on September 15, 1998. Both parties were members of the New Jersey Bar and the husband had an active private practice. The wife had not returned to active practice, however, as a result of her parenting obligations with respect to the children, particularly Jonathan, which had prevented her from doing so.

In reaching their divorce settlement, the parties agreed upon “limited duration alimony” in the amount of $500 per week for four years, effective April 1, 2003. According to the wife, at the time the PSA was negotiated, “it was assumed that [she] would be able to obtain per diem work in the law field.”


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As a continuation to last week’s post regarding what happens when trial courts fail to grant hearings to supporting spouses when they may be warranted, i.e. upon a showing of changed circumstances, this blog post will focus on those times where a hearing is deemed unnecessary based on the facts of a given case. This sometimes occurs in situations where an obligor is self-employed, has the ability to control his or her income, and is attempting to capitalize on the down economy in order to wriggle out of support obligations, sometimes only a few short years after the initial support award.

This type of issue was addressed at length in a prior blog post by Eric Solotoff, Esq. in the context of a discussion of Donnelly v. Donnelly where a self-employed attorney was denied a reduction to his alimony obligation two years following the entry of the Final Judgment of Divorce based on a purported downturn in his law practice. In these types of instances, trial courts have followed the mantra that where the supporting spouse owns his own businesses, the income of the self-employed obligor must be viewed “more expansively.”

For example, in the 2010 case of Pisciotti v. Pisciotti, the defendant-husband appealed from an Order denying his motion to reduce his alimony obligations and to pay child support. At the time of their divorce in 1999, the parties entered into a Property Settlement Agreement (“PSA”) obligating the husband to pay $3,000 per month in alimony, as well as child support in the amount of $4,207.34 per month. Ten (10) years following the parties’ divorce, the husband filed a motion to reduce his support obligations, arguing that his income had substantially declined since the time of the divorce and that his assets, which included several heavily mortgaged properties, had decreased significantly in value. The husband also asserted that the fitness center business, in which he was a co-investor and employee, had suffered during the economic downturn, thereby diminishing his compensation therefrom. The husband supplied various materials in support of his motion, including an updated Case Information Statement, his certification, and personal tax returns. The former wife opposed the motion, arguing that the husband’s motion was not adequately supported, and therefore he had not established a prima facie change of circumstances.


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In this economy, you would be surprised to see how many judges are jaded by applications brought by supporting spouses to reduce their support obligations based upon a reduction in income. After all, some judges entertain these applications on their daily docket and oftentimes see supporting spouses who are simply attempting to capitalize on the down economy and lack any actual merit to their cases. This blog post will explore one of the reactions by judges to this type of application; namely, denying the request of the supporting spouse outright without even holding a hearing, taking testimony, and making credibility findings.

Support obligations are always modifiable by the family court upon application of the supporting spouse.  Typically, this type of application requires the supporting spouse to make a threshold prima facie showing that “changed circumstances have substantially impaired the ability to support himself or herself.” Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139, 157 (1980). When such a showing is made, the Court must next determine if a plenary hearing is warranted. This is sometimes referred to as the two-step Lepis analysis.


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