In an alimony arrangement, the “obligor” is the person who is making alimony payments. Sometimes the obligor experiences an unexpected job loss or a reduction in income. This often leads to a request for an alimony modification judgment. An alimony modification can reduce or suspend the obligor’s alimony payment obligation. Previously, New Jersey law was vague as to when and how an alimony modification judgment should be implemented. In the absence of clear legislative guidelines, New Jersey judges often applied their own rules and criteria to cases, leading to unpredictable outcomes and a sense of general unfairness.
The inconsistent nature of our alimony modification system was causing a great deal of stress for people who had already lost their jobs. In a new law, the New Jersey legislature addressed this problem by requiring judges to base their decisions on the following 10 factors:
(1) The reasons for any loss of income;
(2) Under circumstances where there has been a loss of employment, the obligor’s documented efforts to obtain replacement employment or to pursue an alternative occupation;
(3) Under circumstances where there has been a loss of employment, whether the obligor is making a good faith effort to find remunerative employment at any level and in any field;
(4) The income of the obligee (the person receiving alimony payments). the obligee’s circumstances, and the obligee’s reasonable efforts to obtain employment in view of those circumstances and existing opportunities;
(5) The impact of the parties’ health on their ability to obtain employment;
(6) Any severance compensation or award made in connection with any loss of employment;
(7) Any changes in the respective financial circumstances of the parties that have occurred since the date of the order of which modification is sought;
(8) The reasons for any change in either party’s financial circumstances since the date of the order of which modification is sought, including, but not limited to, assessment of the extent to which either party’s financial circumstances at the time of the application are attributable to enhanced earnings or financial benefits received from any source since the date of the order;
(9) Whether a temporary remedy should be fashioned to provide adjustment of the support award of which modification is sought, and the terms of any such adjustment, pending continuing employment investigations by the unemployed spouse or partner; and
(10) Any other factor the court deems relevant to fairly and equitably decide the application.
In addition to this much-needed guidance, the new law also addresses timing issues. Previously, courts would simply exercise their own discretion in deciding whether the obligor has been unemployed “long enough” to warrant an alimony modification. With the new guidelines, if an obligor is in an ordinary “employer/employee” relationship and loses his or her job, he or she is allowed to file a modification request after 90 days of failing to make up the income. Meanwhile, the obligor is expected to show that he or she has been trying to find a job with comparable pay.
In situations where an obligor is self-employed, the law requires the obligor to present an analysis that examines the changed financial position of the obligor. This analysis compares the financial situations that existed before and after the job loss or reduction in pay, in an effort to determine what modifications (if any) are warranted.
If you pay alimony and you’ve lost your job or experienced a reduction in income, or if your are the recipient of alimony and your former spouse has filed or threatened to file an application to reduce or terminate your alimony, you should consult with a family law attorney. Alimony modifications are expected to become more predictable in light of the recent change in the law, but there are still many factors to consider and argue when trying to reduce or suspend alimony payments or, to try and protect your alimony if you are the dependent spouse that receives the alimony. Talk to an experienced divorce attorney who can explain your rights by contacting Goldstein Law Group. Call 732-967-6777, or use the contact link on this page to request a consultation.
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Termination of Alimony Payments in New Jersey, August 27, 2014