When a person who is paying or receiving alimony wants to change the arrangement – whether it’s to increase, decrease, or stop the payments altogether – he or she usually has to show a court that there’s been a change in circumstances to justify the request. As a recent case out of New Jersey’s Superior Court shows, that can be a tough thing to do in situations in which the former spouses have fixed incomes and expenses.
Husband and Wife divorced in 2003, following nearly a decade of marriage in which the couple didn’t have any children. They eventually entered into a consent agreement, under which Husband pledged to pay Wife $1,000 per month in alimony. They later agreed to kick that amount up to $1,750 a month. It wasn’t soon thereafter, however, that Husband went back to court and asked a judge to either reduce the payments or terminate them completely. A court agreed to reduce the payments to $1,250, noting that Wife was also getting Social Security disability benefits and health care assistance through Medicare.
Husband appealed the decision, arguing that the payments should have been trimmed even more. The issues bounced around the courts before landing back before the Superior Court. It said Husband failed to show that the circumstances had sufficiently changed to justify a further reduction of the alimony payments. The state’s alimony law was changed in 2014 to presume that a former spouse paying support should be relieved of that duty when he or she retires. The Court explained, however, that the new law doesn’t apply to alimony deals in place before the law took effect.
“[Husband] failed to demonstrate to the trial court that [Wife] is eligible for any greater benefits from Social Security than she is already receiving,” the Court said. Nor did he show that there had been other changes to either person’s income or expenses to justify an additional alimony reduction, according to the Court.
The Court also rejected Husband’s claim that he should be relieved of the alimony obligation because he’d been paying Wife support for longer than the couple was married. It said a 2014 law stating that a person should not generally be required to pay alimony for longer than the duration of any marriage less than 20 years doesn’t apply retroactively. The Court also pointed out that the law makes clear that it doesn’t apply in “exceptional circumstances.” The Superior Court said the fact that the former spouses were both disabled, were not able to work, and were living on fixed incomes qualified as such circumstances.
The New Jersey alimony attorneys at Helfand & Associates have more than 100 years of combined experience representing clients in a wide range of divorce, child custody, and support cases. Our lawyers work diligently to ease the stress on clients in what can be a trying process by building the strongest possible cases for the people whom we represent. Tanya N. Helfand, Esq., is a Certified Matrimonial Attorney. Our offices are conveniently located in Whippany and New York City. We are happy to offer clients a free consultation in family law and other cases. Contact us online, call our New Jersey office at (973) 428-0800, or call our New York City office at (646) 213-9053 to set up an appointment with one of our attorneys.