Ex-Husband’s Payments Maintaining House Constituted a ‘Form of Spousal Support’

Sometimes, a divorcing couple completes their property settlement agreement anticipating one future, only to have a different one unfold after they finalize their divorce. A couple encountering such a situation ultimately required a trial court and the Appellate Division to resolve their alimony dispute. The court decided that nothing in the agreement gave the wife grounds for extending the end date of her receiving alimony, even though the “trigger” event for the start of her alimony did not occur for a period of years, instead of months.

When Stephen Tully and Ann Buscher divorced back in early 2007, their case included a property settlement agreement that called for the husband to pay the wife alimony starting from the time they sold the marital home and running until the end of 2016. The couple, however, ultimately did not vacate the house or list it for sale right away. The wife moved out in 2011, and the husband followed the next year. The house was listed for sale in September 2012.

The wife went back to court to request that her alimony extend beyond 2016. The wife claimed that, when the couple was completing their settlement agreement back in December 2006, they made decisions based upon the idea that the couple would sell the house promptly after the divorce was finalized and did not address the notion of the couple remaining in the house. An immediate sale would have meant that the wife would receive nine years of alimony. So, nine years was what she sought, starting from the time she left the home in 2011 and running until 2020.

The trial judge agreed with the wife, calling hers “the only reasonable interpretation I can see.” The Appellate Division, however, saw a different one. The intent was that the husband would support the wife by paying many of the expenses related to the house for as long as she lived in it and then, after she left, he would pay her alimony until December 31, 2016. There was no indication in the agreement, either express or implicit, that the couple had agreed to the idea of “nine years of alimony.” Simply because the wife ultimately stayed in the home for a period of years instead of months did not entitle her to continue receiving alimony after the agreed-upon end date of December 31, 2016.

Additionally, the husband had already provided the wife with spousal support between 2007 and 2011. The husband paid a substantial chunk of the wife’s housing expenses from the time of the entry of the divorce decree until the wife moved out of the marital home. This was a form of alimony.

The husband, however, failed in his bid to postpone paying alimony until the house sold. (Despite being on the market for many months, the couple had not found a buyer.) Not considering what would happen if the house did not sell, the couple failed to discuss the impact of this interim period in their settlement agreement. However, the wife was entitled to leave the home whenever she wanted, and, once she did, she ceased receiving the benefit of the payments the husband made covering expenses on the house. As a result, she was entitled to start receiving alimony payments at that time.

This case points out the need to make sure that your divorce settlement agreement includes even relatively remote contingencies. Even the most carefully drafted settlement agreement, however, may still not anticipate every outcome that might eventually unfold. When such unexpected events take place, and they affect your possible alimony obligations, it is important to have skilled counsel on your side. For experienced and determined representation in your alimony case, contact the New Jersey family law attorneys at Goldstein Law Group. Contact us online or by calling 732-967-6777 to request a confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Man Failed to Prove He Wasn’t Underemployed in New Jersey, Loses Effort to Reduce Alimony, New Jersey Divorce Lawyers Blog, Dec. 19, 2014

Alimony Reform Law Addresses Inconsistencies Among Alimony Modification Cases, New Jersey Divorce Lawyers Blog, Oct. 1, 2014

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