Alimony Modification in New Jersey
Suppose that for the past three years you have been receiving a certain amount per week in alimony. Next suppose that your ex-husband loses the job he held for twelve years. Further assume that he accepts a lower-paying job.
Now imagine that you are the one who has been making the payments. You lost a job that you held for years and after a difficult search, you are offered a job that pays a lot less than you had been earning. You might feel as though you are in a no-win situation. If you accept the lower-paying job, you may be criticized for not trying harder to get a job more comparable to your previous one. On the other hand, if you refuse that job and do not get another offer of employment in a timely manner, you might be admonished for not accepting the first opportunity.
It is not surprising that the supporting ex-spouse in the above scenario would petition the court for a reduction in alimony payments. However, it is equally understandable that the recipient would oppose such a change.
Mills vs. Mills
The situation described above is similar to that of Mills vs. Mills.
In this recent case, the defendant asked the court to reduce the amount of alimony paid to his ex-wife because of a substantial change in his income.
The couple’s alimony agreement did not contain a provision addressing the modification of alimony should there be a change in circumstances.
Also, the divorce became final before the passage of the Alimony Reform Act of 2014. An important question to be considered was whether or not that act could be applied retroactively. Judge Jones of the Superior Court of Ocean County, New Jersey, addressed that question in his ruling.
The Alimony Reform Act of 2014
Before the passage of this act, a NJ court had a great deal of discretion in determining if and how a change in circumstances should affect alimony.
The Alimony Reform Act of 2014 provided judges with some guidance regarding these matters. According to this statute, the judge must consider several factors when determining whether or not a change in circumstances warrants a reduction in alimony. These factors include the following:
- What were the reasons for the loss of income?
- Was there a good faith effort to find comparable employment?
- Did either party experience a change in health or finances?
Judge Jones recommended that in order to be equitable and fair, a simple, two-step inquiry process should be used:
- Was the supporter’s choice of replacement employment reasonable when all circumstances are taken into consideration?
- If the answer to the first question is that it was reasonable, then what modification in support is appropriate? In other words, what would be reasonable and fair to both parties?
The Court’s Decision
In his ruling issued on October 11, 2016, Judge Jones granted Mr. Mills a reduction in the amount of alimony he had to pay to his ex-wife.
Two factors were cited:
- There was no provision in their alimony agreement about modification.
- The matter had not already been litigated and decided by the court.
Although Mr. and Mrs. Mills divorced before the passage of the Alimony Reform Act, Judge Jones used this act as the basis for his decision. He explained that to achieve fairness and equity, the “harsh present-day reality” often makes it necessary to apply the amendments retroactively.
He addressed his decision in the following statement:
“In this case, the court concludes that where this obligor is seeking modification of alimony based upon a loss of employment, the court may apply the terms and spirit of the 2014 amended alimony statute, even if the parties were divorced prior to September 10, 2014, so long as (a) the parties had no written agreement to apply a different standard, and (b) the issue has not already been litigated and adjudicated by the court.”
Judge Jones added, however, that in this case the change in circumstances would have been great enough to grant the defendant’s request for a reduction in payment under the previous law as well.
If you or your ex-spouse has undergone a change in circumstances and want the advice of an experienced NJ Alimony Lawyer, call us at 800-537-4154.