How do I Modify or Terminate an Alimony Award in New Jersey?

IMG_0950 morguefile dmedinaMany divorce litigants, after they endure an emotional, and many times costly divorce process, later suffer some economic change –  a hardship that did not exist when their divorce was finalized, and find that the support award you are paying, or the support you are receiving, is proving to be too much to bear (as the payer) or not enough to pay your bills and live (if you are the payee).  You might be wondering, under what circumstances will a New Jersey Court modify (increase or decrease),  or  even terminate my  alimony?

The answer to these questions is difficult to quantify.  To answer it, you need to be aware of the laws governing alimony (also known as “spousla support”,  or “maintenance”). New Jersey has various types of alimony that may be awarded to a dependent spouse at the time of a divorce.   In many cases, even before the divorce reaches a conclusion (we call this “pre-judgment”), an interim support order may be entered by the court while the case is pending.  This is to ensure that the economic status-quo that existed before hte divorce case commenced is maintained, to the extent the economics of the case permit this. Such an order for support or other relief that is entered during the pendency of the case is referred to as a “pendente lite” order.  It literally means “pending the litigation.”

Answering the above questions about how to modify or terminate an alimony order, or to defend against a motion from your ex-spouse seeking to modify or terminate the support you receive, while once well settled in the law, has recently been exposed to some uncertainty since the passage of the new legislation by Governor Chris Christie on September 10, 2014.  For example, under the new alimony statute reforms that were enacted into law in September 2014, the form of alimony once known as “permanent” alimony was dispensed with.  In its place, the legislature created  “open durational” alimony.    Please follow our blog or consult our website which is linked to this blog to learn more about the different types of alimony  that currently exist under New Jersey law.  In general, an alimony order may be subject to modification or termination after it is entered unless the former spouses specifically bargained for and agreed otherwise in their property settlement agreement.  This is commonly known as an “anti-lepis” provision.   Typically, a  spousal support award  may be reduced or, in some cases,  terminated based on the changed circumstances of either party or the nonoccurrence of a circumstance the court expected to occur when the award was issued.  Another type of alimony in New Jersey, known as a limited duration award (typically for a period of months or years) may be modified or even eliminated when or if a substantial change of circumstances may occur, even if that happens  before the court-specified term of alimony expires.

WHAT CONSTITUTES “CHANGED CIRCUMSTANCES” THAT WOULD ALLOW AN ALIMONY AWARD TO BE MODIFIED OR TERMINATED IN NEW JERSEY?

Exactly what constitutes changed circumstances in New Jersey can be difficult to define. Under NJ Rev Stat § 2A:34-23 (2014), changed circumstances may include a payer’s retirement, serious illness or disability, a significantly reduced income, long-term unemployment, and other factors.  A payee’s changed circumstances can also affect his or her right to receive alimony payments. For example, a payee’s s increased salary, an inheritance,  remarriage, or cohabitation can be enough to merit modification or termination of an alimony award in New Jersey.

Cohabitation is a factor on which New Jersey alimony suspension or termination requests are frequently based. In order to reduce or even terminate a spousal support award due to cohabitation by the dependent spouse, the relationship at issue must be tantamount to a marriage. Simply securing a roommate in order to reduce costs will not normally rise to the level of cohabitation. Relevant factors to consider include sharing a common residence, assisting one another with household chores, romantic involvement, and recognition of the couple’s relationship in the social or family circle. In addition, a cohabiting couple’s economic interdependence, such as shared financial accounts or assets and any financial contributions made towards household expenses, also play a role in whether a New Jersey court will choose to modify or terminate spousal support.  It is important to note that under the sweeping alimony reform that occurred in September 2014, the revised statute gives the courts and us family law practitioners some greater guidance and guideposts with respect to the whole  concept of cohabitation.  In fact, the amended statutes that took effect in September 2014 goes so far as to state that   “cohabitation”  does not necessarily mean the parties maintain a single common household!

Under New Jersey law, a party who seeks to modify or amend an alimony obligation has the initial burden of demonstrating  that  changed circumstances appear to exist which, in the opinion of the payer would  merit suspension, reduction or an outright termination  of a spousal support obligation.  Generally speaking, an individual is not required to support his or her former spouse after the ex-spouse enters a new marital relationship. If an individual who is receiving spousal support remarries, any alimony award will usually be terminated and may not be reinstated at a later time if the dependent spouse’s subsequent marriage may later end in divorce.  A payer’s remarriage or cohabitation, however, will not change his or her obligation to pay alimony.

Modifying or terminating spousal support in New Jersey  has always been highly fact-specific.  Now, with the passage of the new alimony reforms last September (2014), navigating thru these waters can be treacherous for the ill-informed.  If you would like to seek or defend an alimony judgment modification, you should discuss your situation with an experienced New Jersey family law attorney that is well versed in these matters. The lawyers at Goldstein Law Group can review your individual circumstances and advise you of the options that are available. To speak with a dedicated family law advocate, please  call Goldstein Law Group at 732-967-6777 or contact us through our website today.

More Blog Posts:

New Jersey Father’s Child Support Obligations Upheld Despite His Incarceration, April 2, 2015, New Jersey Divorce Lawyers Blog

New Jersey Court Upholds Arbitrator’s Decision Refusing to Order Permanent Alimony Where Former Spouses Earned Comparable Wages Throughout Marriage, March 31, 2015, New Jersey Divorce Lawyers Blog

Photo Credit: DMedina, MorgueFile