A spouse in a divorce case has certain responsibilities, including presenting evidence in support of his or her positions on the issues and showing up in court. A recent case out of Connecticut is a good example of what can happen when a person doesn’t meet those responsibilities. Although this case happened in another state, it is a good example for people considering a divorce in New Jersey. It’s also a reminder of just how important it is to fully consider the terms of a settlement agreement – with the help of a lawyer – before signing your name on the line.
Husband and Wife divorced in October 2009, following some 17 years of marriage in which the couple had two children. They entered into a divorce settlement agreement, resolving custody, property division, and other issues. Husband agreed, as part of the settlement, to pay Wife $400 per month in alimony. The agreement also stated that those payments could be modified or terminated in the event that Wife cohabitated with another person. Husband also agreed to transfer his interest in the family home to Wife, on the condition that she be responsible for paying the mortgage, taxes, and maintenance and repair expenses.
Wife moved from Connecticut to New Jersey and filed for bankruptcy in 2013. When Husband filed a motion for contempt, arguing that she had failed to pay the mortgage and other property expenses, Wife said she simply didn’t have the money to do so. Husband also asked a Connecticut court to terminate his alimony payments, asserting that Wife was now living with another man.
Wife did not appear at the hearing that followed. She requested an extension – the third in a row – hours before the hearing, a request that the trial judge denied. The trial court found Wife in contempt and ordered her to pay Husband $2,500 in attorney fees. The trial judge also said there was sufficient evidence that Wife was engaged to be remarried and ordered that the alimony payments be terminated.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Connecticut Appeals Court rejected Wife’s claim that her financial situation made her unable to pay the mortgage and expenses. It said she failed to provide evidence of her financial hardship and didn’t even appear at the hearing to testify. “Although it was [Husband]’s burden to demonstrate that [Wife] was not in compliance with the court’s orders, which he did, it was the [Wife]’s burden to demonstrate that her noncompliance was not willful,” the Court said.
The Appeals Court also rejected Wife’s argument that the trial judge wrongly terminated the alimony without giving her a chance to testify about her relationship with her fiancée. Instead the Court said there was sufficient evidence to show that Wife was cohabitating with the man. That included a wedding notice in the local newspaper. “We conclude that the court had sufficient evidence, under the circumstances of this case, to make the finding that [Wife] was cohabiting with [her finacee] in a relationship similar to that of husband and wife,” the Court held.
As this case makes clear, a person considering a divorce or grappling with alimony issues should consult an experienced attorney. The New Jersey divorce lawyers 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 strong cases for the people whom we represent.
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.