It is going on six months since the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and subsequent economic shutdowns changed life as we knew it for most New Jerseyans and Americans. Millions of earners have suffered a substantial loss in income, including those obligated to make regular spousal support payments. You might be wondering how if at all the pandemic crisis affects your New Jersey alimony requirements, but it’s critical that whatever your situation, you not cease making your obligated support payments before you speak to an experienced Bergen County family law attorney.
Under state statute, as a payor you can request modifications to your payment obligations if you have a significant change in your financial circumstances, but it’s complicated. During normal times, “temporary” reductions in income have usually not been considered sufficient to qualify for alimony payment modification by New Jersey family courts. The million-dollar question in light of the current crisis is: what is considered temporary? With the unprecedented uncertainty surrounding the Covid crisis, legal practitioners and others are wondering how such matters as spousal and child support should be dealt with.
Under current state law, open durational alimony (open-ended alimony which has no cut-off date until retirement) is allowed only in the dissolution of marriages lasting 20 years or longer. It is usually applied in cases where one spouse was financially dependent on the other and has limited earning potential of their own. Short-term alimony obligations (rehabilitation and reimbursement alimony) are applied in such cases as when the recipient spouse is receiving education or occupational training.
Alimony can be reduced or terminated if the paying spouse becomes disabled or unemployed. Regardless of what type of alimony payments you are making, you are very likely challenged by current circumstances.
The 90-Day Rule
The New Jersey alimony statute, which was amended in 2014, holds that applications for modification of alimony payments may not be filed until the payor has experienced a reduction or loss of income for at least 90 days (N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(k)). However, the good news for payors is that if the court chooses to modify a payment, it is retroactive to the actual date that income changed.
Normally, the court will look at the totality of the circumstances in each case in determining whether to modify an alimony payment, including the payor’s ability and efforts to obtain new employment. Again, with the duration of the current Covid crisis being a huge unknown, along with the fact that some industries and businesses have been suspended indefinitely, courts will have to take into account that this seriously hinders a person’s efforts to obtain substitute employment.
But be aware—especially if you’re a business owner or have significant assets—that among the remedies a state court can fashion is ordering the payor to use their assets to temporarily fund support payments. In such a scenario, you might be better off not seeking a modification at all. These are matters that a seasoned New Jersey alimony attorney will be able to help you navigate and why it’s critical to consult a legal professional before taking any action.
You Need a Respected Bergen County Family Lawyer
It still can’t be stressed enough that, even if you believe you’ve come to an informal understanding with your former spouse, any change or discontinuation of regular spousal support payments must be made official with the court. Otherwise, you risk not only potential financial penalties for being in default, but possible professional ramifications for appearing to be delinquent in support payments.
At Aretsky Law Group PC, our family law attorneys have years of experience helping individuals in New Jersey receive court-ordered modifications of their alimony obligations during times of financial stress. We can help you obtain the relief you need. Call our offices today for a free consultation.