Alimony Modification

The purpose of an alimony award is "to assist the supported spouse in achieving a lifestyle that is reasonably comparable" to the marital standard of living. Crews v. Crews, 164 N.J. 11, 16 (2000). The court has the power to modify an alimony award based on changed circumstances. Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139, 146 (1980); see also N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23 (providing that support orders "may be revised and altered by the court from time to time as circumstances may require"). The support award will be decreased to the extent it is unnecessary to maintain the standard of living of the dependent spouse. Lepis v. Lepis, supra, 83 N.J. at 152-53.

That all seems simply enough but as anyone that has ever dealt with a motion to modify alimony knows, it is anything but simple. In most cases, a motion to modify alimony is brought by the payor spouse because either his/her income went down and/or the receiving spouse's income has increased. Let's take that last one first. A significant improvement in the financial circumstances of the dependent spouse is a changed circumstance warranting reconsideration of a support award. Glass v. Glass, supra, 366 N.J. Super. at 371 (stating that "`a significant change for the better in the circumstances of the dependent spouse,' may obviate the need for continued support" (citation omitted)). However, the change must be "significant" and not a "modest" increase in income. Id. At 379. This is why your PSA should include a provision for the exchange of tax returns because you may otherwise not know if the receiving spouse is making more money.

A decrease in the payor spouse's income is much more difficult to deal with and I don't want to turn this website into a legal treatise. Compounding the problem here is that a brief period of unemployment is not a changed circumstance. Thus, at the first sign of a layoff, the best thing to do is to hire a lawyer to begin putting together a motion. However, it could take several months to pull this off because there is a lot that your lawyer has to help you put together. It can be quite a project but if done right, it can be successful.

When the motion is filed, the burden is on the litigant seeking a modification of the support award to first make a prima facie showing of changed circumstances. Crews v. Crews, supra, 164 N.J. at 28. Once a prima facie showing has been made, the court may order any necessary discovery and conduct a plenary hearing to resolve any questions of fact. Lepis v. Lepis, supra, 83 N.J. at 157-59. Whether to modify an alimony award based on changed circumstances rests in the sound discretion of the family court. Larbig v. Larbig, 384 N.J. Super. 17, 21 (App. Div. 2006). However, a post-judgment ESP and/or economic mediation can help win the case without the expense and aggravation of a full blown plenary hearing (aka trial). This firm has consistently used these methods to help our clients achieve great results while also minimizing expenses.

Call us anytime.

Free initial consultation. All major credit cards accepted.