Termination of Alimony Payments in New Jersey

In the state of New Jersey, it is rare that the entry of your final judgment of divorce represents the final interaction with your former spouse, especially  if your settlement agreement or  judgment of divorce includes a provision for alimony to be paid.  Whether you are the payor/obligor or the payee/recipient of alimony, it is a common occurrence that post-judgment issues arise between the now divorced spouses will inevitably occur and, in many cases, it involves the issue of alimony. This post-judgment scenario frequently occurs when the obligor spouse believes that the dependent spouse receiving alimony may be cohabiting with a person in a relationship akin to a marriage and thus, believes the alimony obligation should terminate or, at a minimum,  be reduced. There is a host of case law in New Jersey  that has evolved over time which addresses the issue of cohabitation and how it may impact upon a dependent spouse’s right to continue receiving alimony in New Jersey.  The ultimate determination is fact sensitive. Numerous facts need to be presented to the court which the court must consider in order to make the ultimate determination whether or not the payor spouse is entitled to terminate or reduce the alimony paid. These facts frequently involve conflicting positions between the former spouses as to whether or not the dependent spouse is cohabiting with an unrelated significant other or, as the relevant case law states, “is  deriving an economic benefit from that cohabitation.” Often,  in these types of cases, there is  a fundamental disagreement where the dependent spouse resides or where the dependent spouse’s significant other resides.  As a result, a  factual inquiry  must ensue especially when  the dependent spouse either stays at his or her significant other’s residence (or vice versa) for a few nights per week but not the entire week;  does that constitute a level of “cohabitation” which might subject the former dependent spouse’s alimony to terminated  or modified? Frequently, evidence needs to be obtained by counsel as part of the discovery leading up to this potential hearing.   One of the facts the payor spouse, through counsel,  must present to the court is some indicia of where the former dependent spouse’s significant other/cohabitant resides, where that person may have his or her driver’s license registered, does the significant other receive mail at the dependent spouse’s residence; is his or her clothes kept at the house of the dependent spouse? Or, if the payor spouse believes the dependent spouse is residing at the home of his or her significant other, the inquiries will focus on where the dependent spouse receives his or her mail, address of driver’s license, etc. Recently, a Federal case venued in Camden, New Jersey was decided adjudicating the issue of whether or not the disclosure of Motor Vehicle records of the dependent ex-spouse for use by the payor spouse in his application to the court seeking the  termination of his former wife’s alimony violated the dependent spouse’s privacy rights under a specific federal law.  The judge in this particular case ruled that it  did not violate this particular law that was designed to prevent the misuse of public driver license databases. The Court determined that the data being sought – the driver license information of the former dependent spouse – in order to assist the Court in determining where the former dependent spouse was truly  residing, (i.e.- with her boyfriend or not) did not violate the specific statute that was adopted to protect the safety and privacy of the citizens.  The driver license information of the former spouse is one of the many factors that a Court will consider in order to determine whether or not the payor spouse’s application to terminate or modify the dependent spouse’s alimony should be granted. Our judicial systems, both federal and state,  have often  been protective of the privacy of its citizens.  Legislation was passed back in 1994 after an overzealous fan obtained an address of a celebrity through motor vehicle records. The result was tragic and sadly, that person murdered the celebrity.  The legislature eventually passed the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (“DPPA”) back in 1994 as a response to that situation.  This recent Federal case however, permitted the use of this information and ultimately concluded that it was lawfully procured.  This particular case had some unique factors including how it was venued in the Federal Courts in the first place.  The application originally arose from the former husband’s procurement of the former wife’s driver license data which, under the DPPA, a Federal statute, created Federal Court jurisdiction.  However, once the Federal District Judge dismissed the count pertaining to the DPPA, finding that the former wife’s driver license information was not unlawfully divulged, the Federal Court no longer had jurisdiction. Thereafter,  the balance of the issues to be decided (i.e. – cohabitation and potential termination or modification of alimony) was remanded to the New Jersey State Court. Whether you are the former spouse receiving alimony defending an application your former spouse has filed seeking to terminate or reduce your alimony , or if you are the  payor spouse paying the alimony and believe your spouse is cohabiting and you believe you are entitled to a reduction or termination of your alimony, you need an experienced attorney who can zealously prosecute or defend these types of claims.  Goldstein Law Group has been practicing family law for more than 28 years each along with multiple associate attorneys that are experienced in these matters.  If you have an issue regarding the  alimony you receive or the alimony you pay, please contact one of the partners at Goldstein Law Group to discuss your specific case. Mark Goldstein, Esq.