A husband’s attempt to bring an end to his alimony payments did yield a reduced obligation, but not the complete cessation he sought. It also came at a price after the Appellate Division upheld not only the continuation of alimony but also a trial court award requiring the husband to pay $15,000 of the wife’s attorneys’ fees that she spent defending against his efforts to terminate alimony.
When Robert Clauss married his wife Linda in 1988, she was a ballet dancer who had no college education. When the couple divorced two decades later, the wife was unemployed with no income. The couple reached an agreement on spousal support that called for imputing an income of $30,000 per year to the wife. However, by 2012, the wife had earned her license as a registered nurse and was making $66,000 per year.
After the wife began her nursing job, the husband asked the court to terminate his alimony payments. The court initially shaved the husband’s alimony payments nearly in half, from $770 to $400 per week, and it ultimately lowered the obligation to $350 per week.
The husband appealed, arguing that the judge should have wiped out his alimony obligation completely. That appeal was unsuccessful. A central problem plaguing the husband’s case was that the trial court simply did not find the husband believable when he testified regarding his financial condition. The husband’s assertions that his alimony obligations were creating financial constraints were not persuasive to the trial court, given that the husband continued to have enough money on hand to make improvements to his vacation home.
The wife, on the other hand, was considered credible when she testified about her lifestyle, including stating that, although the husband had provided $35,000 toward her nursing education, that education actually cost her a total of $90,000. Based upon the evidence each side offered, and the relative credibility of each spouse, the trial court found that the husband was living a lifestyle much closer to the one the couple enjoyed while married than the wife was. The trial court made these and other detailed findings in a lengthy order, leaving the Appellate Division to decide that the lower court had ample basis for setting alimony where it did.
Finally, the Appellate Division’s opinion highlights an additional risk of taking a path like that of the husband: awards of attorneys’ fees. The Appellate Division upheld the trial court’s conclusion, which held that the husband’s argument in favor of total cessation of his alimony obligation was an “unreasonable position.” This unreasonable argument, coupled with the husband’s larger income, justified making the husband pay for $15,000 of the wife’s attorneys’ fees. It could have been worse. The wife spent more than $39,000 on lawyers defending against the husband’s motion.
The passage of time can yield many changes in the circumstances of one’s life. These changed circumstances may mean that the alimony obligation from your divorce should change, too. For reliable advice and aggressive representation in your alimony dispute, contact the New Jersey alimony attorneys of Goldstein Law Group. Our attorneys can help you pursue, or defend against, changes in the alimony amount in your case.
Contact us online or by calling 732-967-6777 to request a confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
Ex-Husband’s Payments Maintaining House Constituted a ‘Form of Spousal Support’, New Jersey Divorce Lawyers Blog, Jan 8, 2015
New Jersey Alimony Reform Creates Much Needed Guidelines, But Still Allows Broad Judicial Discretion,