Court Holds New Jersey Alimony Payments Should Have Terminated on the Date Support Recipient Began Cohabiting With New Partner

file000623237995 morguefile jetlovskiWhen an alimony recipient begins living with a new partner, he or she must demonstrate that a continuing financial need exists in order to continue receiving spousal support. In an unpublished opinion, a couple divorced after about 14 years of marriage. Their June 2005 judgment of divorce incorporated a matrimonial settlement agreement (“MSA”) that required the husband to pay his former wife limited-duration (a/k/a “term”) alimony until August 2013. The MSA also stated the alimony award would be subject to modification or termination if the former wife began cohabiting with a new partner.

In 2012, the former husband filed a motion to terminate alimony payments after learning his former wife’s boyfriend began residing with her. The family court denied the man’s motion because he failed to establish that his former wife received a financial benefit from her new living arrangement. A few months later, the former wife moved into a home that was owned by her boyfriend. In April 2013, the former husband filed another motion to terminate his alimony obligations as of the date their cohabitation began or the date of his motion.

The former wife admitted that her expenses decreased as a result of moving into her boyfriend’s home on December 1, 2012. Although the woman claimed that she paid for a number of household expenses, she failed to offer the court any financial information in support of her assertion. The former wife also agreed to termination of her alimony payments effective on the date her former husband’s motion was filed. As a result, a judge ordered the spousal support payments terminated as of April 3, 2013. The judge also denied each member of the former couple’s request for attorney’s fees.

The judge stated she selected the date of termination based on the husband’s suggestion and the wife’s agreement in an effort to reduce further legal fees. The judge also said she chose not to award counsel fees because the former husband acted unreasonably when he refused to withdraw his motion after the wife agreed to end her spousal support. The man then sought review by the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.

The Appellate Division stated in its opinion that in the state of  New Jersey, an  alimony award is to be based on financial need. As a result, such an award may be modified at any time due to significantly changed circumstances. The court stated that the dependent spouse’s cohabitation creates a rebuttable presumption that changed circumstances occurred. In addition, the court then said that the burden of proof then shifts to the dependent spouse to demonstrate there is a continued need for financial support once cohabitation is established.

After examining the record in the case, the Appellate Division found that the judge selected a date to terminate alimony based on the recipient’s suggestion even though the former wife failed to offer any evidence that she had a continued need for support after December 1, 2012. The court held that the former wife failed to meet her burden of proof to rebut the presumption that she derived an economic benefit from cohabiting with her boyfriend as of that earlier date. As a result, the Appellate Division stated the lower court abused its discretion when it failed to terminate the former wife’s alimony as of the date she began residing with her significant other. The court also vacated the judge’s order regarding attorney’s fees and remanded the issue for reconsideration.

Since the judge’s order was not supported by the record, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division reversed and remanded the case.

If you need to seek or defend a motion or application to modify your spousal support obligations, an experienced New Jersey family law lawyer can help. The knowledgeable attorneys at Goldstein Law Group have the experience and skill required to help you achieve a  result that is fair to you. To request a confidential consultation with a seasoned alimony lawyer, call Goldstein Law Group at 732-967-6777 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Schlumpf v. Schlumpf, NJ: Appellate Div. 2015

More Blog Posts:

Establishing a ‘Change of Circumstances’ in New Jersey for Modifying Custody in a Multi-National Situation, February 21, 2015, New Jersey Divorce Lawyers Blog

Negotiated Property Settlement Agreements (a “PSA” or “MSA”) Can be Tough to Change in New Jersey, February 19, 2015, New Jersey Divorce Lawyers Blog

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