Family Court is not only for those who are seeking a divorce. In addition to divorces, family court also handles post-divorce matters as well as domestic violence matters. One of the most common post-divorce issues is whether support obligations such as alimony can be modified or terminated. Under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23, the legislature does allow for modifications or terminations of support. At Helfand & Associates, our attorneys are well equipped and experienced in assisting individuals post-divorce. Our firm often represents individuals whose circumstances changed from the time of the divorce to the present and are now financially burdened by the agreement they entered into. This happened not infrequently during COVID.
The truth is that spousal support obligations are always subject to review and a modification of a "change of circumstances." Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139 (1980) is New Jersey’s seminal case that the Court uses to define what exactly a “change of circumstances.” Lepis sets forth a fair procedure to establish changed circumstances. There are many grounds that court will consider as a change in circumstances warranting a reduction in alimony. A few examples are an involuntary significant loss of income, an increase in the cost of living, illness, disability, the payee’s cohabitation with another person or loss of employment by the payor. If the party moving to reduce alimony demonstrates any of these factors, the court will review the alimony obligation to see whether it is still fair for the individuals. The movant must also demonstrate that he/she has attempted to improve his/her diminishing circumstances. If the former marital status quo is impossible to maintain, then a modification is warranted.
The Appellate Division in Aronson v. Aronson, 245 N.J. Super. 354 (1991) has recognized that alimony should not be a punishment or a reward for the payee, nor should it be a windfall for either party. It is instead a right arising out of the marriage relationship to allow the parties to continue to live according to the economic standards established during the marriage to the extent that economic circumstances will allow. However, if that standard of living is no longer feasible, then one party should not benefit at the detriment of the other party.
The process of showing a changed circumstances includes a limited exchange of discovery including but not limited to exchanging tax returns, W-2s, pay stubs and most importantly filing an updated case information statement. As a reminder, the case information statement, or CIS, is a detailed snapshot of the financials of your case. At Helfand & Associates we take the time to go through your CIS in a very detailed and careful fashion to ensure accuracy and simplicity for the Judge to review.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court of New Jersey in Crews v. Crews, 164 N.J. 11 (2000) provided a list of factors intended to set a baseline to determine if the support was adequate to maintain marital lifestyle. The courts are guided by Crews for all alimony reduction cases and compare the standard of living that the parties enjoyed at the time of the divorce to their current standard of living.
If during the time the payee was not seeking full-time work or economizing, then there may be consequences for the lack thereof. Both parents are responsible to save and support their children, even while collecting alimony and child support.
In sum, when husband or wife's income has decreased, the payee is not entitled to have her/him keep him/her at the former marital standard of living while she/he struggles. Alimony and support must be reduced in these type of cases.
If you are in a situation similar to the ones described above, please contact Helfand & Associates immediately. With over 25+ years of experience in representing high net worth parties, we are the law firm for you. Please call for a free ½ hour consultation to see how Helfand & Associates can help you with your matter. We handle cases in Bergen, Essex, Morris, Hudson, Union, Somerset, Sussex and other New Jersey counties.