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When a New Jersey court considers whether to award spousal support – or alimony – in a divorce case, one of the factors that judges often look at is how much money each spouse is making. In some cases, they’ll also consider how much each spouse could be making. Courts have the power to “impute” income to a spouse in setting a support award if it believes the person isn’t living up to his or her earning potential. As the New Jersey Superior Court recently explained, however, a judge can’t simply pull numbers from the sky when making these decisions.

smurfy-workers-1183449Husband was working as an airline pilot when he and Wife married in 2000. He earned between $71,000 and $78,000 per year flying the friendly skies until he was furloughed in 2003. Husband then took a job with a heating, ventilation and air conditioning company owned by his parents. His salary rose to as high as $190,000, but by 2012 he earned only $67,000. He explained in the court proceedings that the company had been struggling financially and that it had laid off a number of its workers.

A trial court eventually ordered Husband to pay Wife an unspecified amount of monthly spousal support. In so doing, it said it would impute an annual income of $125,000 to Husband based on his prior earning history. The judge noted in particular that Husband “can always go back to being a pilot” where there was “no question” that Husband “has the capacity to go back and earn a substantial income.” Even if he remained in the HVAC business, the judge said it appeared that Husband could still make a decent living.

 

Reversing the decision on appeal, the Superior Court said it could not tell from the record how the trial court arrived at the $125,000 figure. “Imputation of income is a discretionary matter; however, a trial judge must still use evidence to realistically evaluate and determine capacity to earn and job availability.” The Appellate Court in this case, however, determined there was not enough evidence to support the Judge’s decision.

The Appellate Court observed that Husband’s previous income as a pilot was below the $125,000 mark and said there didn’t seem to be any indication that he could earn that amount of money in the HVAC industry. The Court concluded, “Because we cannot discern the basis for the trial court’s conclusion concerning defendant’s imputed income, we cannot evaluate the court’s exercise of discretion in imputing $125,000 yearly income to defendant.”

It is vital that a person considering a divorce or grappling with a related legal issue seek the counsel and advice of a seasoned family law attorney. The New Jersey family 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 the strongest possible cases for the people that 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.

 

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  • Whippany Office
    575 Route 10 East
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    Whippany, New Jersey 07981
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    New York, New York 10170
    Phone: 646-213-9053
Testimonials
  • "Without Tanya and her time, the really unpleasant experience of getting divorced would have been even worse. They were able to settle the matter very quickly and helped me fit this into my tight schedule allowing me to leave to move abroad for my dissertation research on time without having to delay the trip because of the divorce. They also did all of it within my very tight budget. Thank you so much for your help and dedication to my legal matter!"  - AG

  • "Tanya and her Associates are outstanding! What I admire most about Tanya is her knowledge of the law with her keen negotiation skills to foster mediation. Her strategies efficiently resolve conflict leading to the resolution of cases. She and her team have an outstanding work ethic, know what data are needed, and get the job done. It is a pleasure to work with such wonderful professionals."  - Tara, Whippany

  • "I found Ms. Helfand's knowledge and tenacity most reassuring during the ordeal of my divorce. She was steadfast in her guidance and was very effective in her negotiations on my behalf. I would recommend her without a second thought."  -Jonathan

  • "Ms. Helfand was very professional and helpful with our bankruptcy case. Her advice was very useful and helped us make the proper decisions for our situation. In addition, she was very supportive during a very difficult time for us. Finally, she set very specific fee expectations and there were no surprises when it was completed. I would use her services again and would recommend her, without question."

  • "She is Incredible, very quick responding to the other party. Very professional and courteous. I highly recommend her. She has a great passion and love for every single case."

  • "Tanya and her team were very professional handling my divorce proceedings. She was very proactive in making the other attorney finally get the process moving forward. I would recommend her to anyone looking for legal services."  -Scott

  • "Ms. Helfand strategized & processed, both, my Divorce & Chapter 13 Bankruptcy. As both cases were emotionally and legally challenging, Ms. Helfand proved to be an empowering Mentor along the path to clarity for which I am truly grateful.I highly recommend her legal expertise to anyone who is seeking a confident, savvy & caring attorney to become at peace with self and any legal matters."  -Vas

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