Four Reasons to Reevaluate an Alimony Obligation in New Jersey
We have previously discussed New Jersey’s alimony reform movement. Today I wanted to discuss alimony modification under current New Jersey law.
If you have been involved in a divorce case in New Jersey and you owe alimony, the amount you pay can be reduced or eliminated if certain conditions are met. Unless agreed by the parties to the contrary, alimony is always modifiable based upon a change in circumstance.
What constitutes a change in circumstance can vary. You can review our earlier post, Alimony Modification in New Jersey, for post divorce discussion on change in circumstance criteria. If you pay alimony under New Jersey law, you may be entitled to a reduction in your alimony obligation. you would need to file a post judgment motion in order to accomplish this…
Obtaining an Alimony Reduction
Whether you were divorced based on a trial or a property settlement agreement (“PSA”), your alimony, in all likelihood, is based upon the financial circumstances during your marriage and you and your spouse’s financial circumstances at the time the alimony obligation was created.
The financial circumstances during your marriage are generally not subject to change, however, current financial circumstances are subject to change. A change of financial or other circumstance can lead to a reduction or, in some cases, an elimination of an alimony obligation. As a general rule, the change in circumstance that you are asserting is the basis for the reduction or termination of your alimony.
There are four reasons why a court will consider an alimony modification or termination:
- The recipient spouse is cohabitating with another person;
- The paying spouse has become unemployed;
- The paying spouse has become disabled; and/or
- The paying spouse has retired.
Obviously, the above referenced circumstances are just some of the many reasons alimony may be terminated or modified. Clearly, there are other reasons that alimony can be modified or terminated.
We will discuss the above four reasons in greater detail below.
If the recipient spouse is living with a new intimate partner there may be grounds for an alimony modification or termination. We get numerous inquiries for modification of alimony due to cohabitation. It is important to remember that cohabitation in and of itself will not necessarily warrant termination or reduction in alimony or spousal support. See our earlier blog post, Cohabitation Does Not Automatically End Alimony, for more background on this particularly popular topic.
What DOES cohabitation mean for your case? Once cohabitation has been established, the burden shifts to the recipient spouse to demonstrate the lack of a financial interdependence. Said another way, the recipient spouse must show that he or she does not receive an economic benefit from the new relationship.
When a paying spouse seeks to have the alimony payments reduced because he or she lost his job, the applicant will need show that the unemployment is involuntary and in all likelihood permanent, too. An involuntary loss of employment, by itself, is not enough to modify alimony. Loss of employment is typically considered temporary in nature.
Unemployment, under certain circumstances, can lead to a modification or termination of alimony. Please see our earlier post When is Unemployment Enough to Modify Support? for more information.
For example, if somebody has involuntarily lost her job and despite their diligent efforts was unable to find a job in his or her profession, the court may deem this to be a change in circumstance. In these types of applications, the paying spouse needs to be able to document their diligent search for employment and industry standards and industry circumstances. It is also helpful to show that the paying spouse has found employment in another field or in a lesser paying job. The key is to show that the employment situation is involuntary and not likely to change the near future.
A paying spouse who becomes disabled in many cases is entitled to an alimony modification. The paying spouse needs to be able to prove that they truly are disabled and unable work. The best evidence of disability is the approval of Social Security disability benefits (SSDI). However, there are some exceptions to modifications for Social Security disability and a reduction is not automatic.
A paying spouse who becomes disabled and who is receiving Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) from the Social Security Administration is generally entitled to a reduction and/or termination of alimony. Remember, SSI is a means tested benefit. For a discussion on the impact of SSDI and SSI in relation to child support, please see our earlier blog post, Means-Tested Benefits Don’t Automatically Stop Support.
A paying spouse who is retiring from work may be able to seek a reduction in alimony based on a reduced income. Absent an agreement to the contrary, the reduction or termination is not automatic or guaranteed (See Retirement Does Not Necessarily End Alimony).
The threshold question for the court to consider: “Is the paying spouse’s retirement early?” If the paying spouse is retiring early, the court will consider the reasons for the early retirement balanced against the impact retirement will have on the recipient spouse.
If the retirement is not deemed “early” then the court will consider the financial circumstances of the paying spouse as a basis for a reduction or termination. There is no “hard and fast rule” in New Jersey as to what constitutes a “normal retirement age.” Most New Jersey courts see a “normal retirement age” as 65 or when the recipient is able to retire with full Social Security benefits (age 66).
Remember: income from assets that were divided as part of the divorce are usually exempt from an alimony evaluation.
Contact Us Now
As you can see, it’s an understatement to say that this topic has a lot of ins and outs!
If you or a loved one have questions regarding alimony, the enforcement of alimony orders, or the modification or termination of alimony orders contact us or call us at(856)546-1350 to schedule a confidential consultation with our experienced New Jersey alimony attorneys.