As a lawyer who only practices divorce and family law, I have defended clients on many post-judgment (i.e., after the divorce has been finalized) motions filed by their “ex” to lower alimony and child support payments. The attorneys at my law firm deal with this issue on a weekly basis as such motions to the Superior Court of New Jersey are quite common. Below, please find a hypothetical legal briefs which not only clearly states the law but also shows how detailed the lawyers at my law firm are when defending motions to lessen alimony and child support:
LAW OFFICES OF EDWARD R. WEINSTEIN, L.L.C.
WEINSTEIN PROFESSIONAL BUILDING
214 HIGHWAY 18, SUITE 2A
EDWARD R. WEINSTEIN
EAST BRUNSWICK, NEW JERSEY 08816
Via Hand Delivery
Honorable John A. Jorgensen, J.S.C.
Middlesex County Courthouse
120 New Street
New Brunswick, New Jersey 08903
Re:Jones vs. Jones
Docket No.: FM-12-
Dear Judge Jorgensen:
This office represents the Plaintiff, Susan Jones, with regard to the above captioned matter. Please accept this letter brief in lieu of a more formal brief in support of Plaintiff’s request to deny the Defendant’s motion seeking to terminate his alimony obligation to the Plaintiff and reduce his child support obligation. In support of her position, the Plaintiff relies on the fact that the Defendant cannot establish, by objective credible evidence, that he has suffered a continuing, substantial and permanent change in circumstances, as set forth by the Lepis Court, which directly impacts his ability to comply with his financial obligations and entitles him to a reduction and/or termination of his support obligations.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The facts and procedural history are a matter of record and set forth in the Plaintiff’s various Certifications. Plaintiff respectfully refers the Court to her previous Certifications for recitation of facts necessary for disposition.
Very briefly, the parties were married on May 14, 1998. There were two (2) children born of the marriage, Mary Jones, born February 15, 1991 and Tommy Jones, born may 30, 1995. The parties attended Binding Arbitration with arbitrator Edward Doe, Esq., on January 17, 2005. Mr. Doe submitted an Arbitration Award dated February 22, 2005. Mr. Doe submitted an Amendment to Arbitration Award on March 11, 2005. A Judgment of Divorce was entered on March 11, 2005, which incorporated the Arbitration Award and the Amendment to Arbitration Award. An Amended Judgment of Divorce was entered in April 2005. The Amended Judgment of Divorce incorporated the March 11, 2005 Judgment of Divorce, the February 22, 2005 Arbitration Award and the Amended to Arbitration Award dated March 11, 2005.
In accordance with the February 22, 2005 Arbitration Award, the Defendant was ordered to pay the Plaintiff permanent alimony, which included a period of rehabilitative alimony. The initial alimony award to the Plaintiff was in the amount of $425.00 per week, of which $125.00 per week represented rehabilitative alimony for a one-year period. At the conclusion of the one-year rehabilitative period, the Defendant’s alimony obligation automatically reverted to permanent alimony at the rate of $300.00 per week. The Arbitrator specifically indicated that the permanent alimony, in the amount of $300.00 per week, would continue until the demise of either party or the remarriage by Plaintiff. Cohabitation by the Plaintiff would be considered a Lepis factor entitling the Defendant to make an application to reduce or terminate alimony in accordance with existing New Jersey case law at said time.
The February 22, 2005 Arbitration Award ordered the Defendant to pay child support in the amount of $213.00 per week. However, the Arbitrator amended this calculation, as seen by Schedule A, annexed to the Amendment to Arbitration Award dated March 11, 2005, ordering the Defendant to pay the Plaintiff child support in the amount of $195.00 per week. Said calculation was based upon an imputed gross income to the Plaintiff of approximately $288.00 per week with 313 overnights per year with the children and receipt of $425.00 per week in alimony from the Defendant and Defendant’s gross income of approximately $1,567.00 per week, with 52 overnights per year with the children, payment of $425.00 paid per week in alimony to Plaintiff, and payment of $31.00 paid per week towards the children’s share of the health insurance premium. In accordance with the Arbitration Award, child support was supposed to be recalculated after the one year rehabilitative period, because the Defendant’s alimony obligation decreased to $300.00. However, the Defendant’s child support was never recalculated.
The Court has entered a total of six (6) or seven (7) post-judgment orders since the parties date of divorce, two (2) of which were entered based on two (2) separate Orders to Show Cause the Plaintiff was forced to file in regard to selling the parties’ marital residence.
On June 6, 2008, Plaintiff filed a Notice of Motion to Enforce Litigants Rights and For Other Relief, which was returnable on July 3, 2008. This Motion, requested in part, that the Court order the escrow attorney, Todd Mayo, Esq., to disburse the proceeds from the sale of the marital residence in accordance with the credits awarded to each party in the Arbitration Award. Prior to the filing of her Motion, the escrow attorney was not allowed to release the proceeds because the Defendant had contested the disbursement. In response to Plaintiff’s Motion, the Defendant filed a Notice of Cross-Motion, requesting to reduce his child support and terminate his alimony obligation to the Plaintiff.
The Court entered an order on July 3, 2008, in regard to the various issues raised by the parties’ in their respective papers. Of importance to the current hearing, is paragraph 4 of the Court’s Order, which indicated the following:
“The parties are to engage in discovery relating to all financial issues as well as Defendant’s medical issues. All discovery is to be completed within sixty (60) days. The parties shall submit a Consent Order relative to the issue of recalculating child support which should be retroactive to June 6, 2008 (the date the Plaintiff’s Motion was filed). In the event the parties are unable to enter into a Consent Order and the issue of child support recalculation, either party may file a motion to obtain the appropriate recalculation.”
This was reiterated in paragraph 9 of the Order wherein the Court denied the Defendant’s application to reduce child support and terminate alimony without prejudice and indicated that the parties were to participate in discovery as referred to in paragraph 4. Upon completion of discovery either party could contact the Court to request a Plenary Hearing on the issues of the reduction in child support and/or termination of alimony based upon the Defendant’s medical condition.
Subsequent to the entry of the Order, neither party participated in discovery within the sixty (60) day time period and neither party requested a Plenary Hearing. However, even though he failed to participate in the discovery process, on or about December 18, 2008, the Defendant filed an Order to Show Cause, again requesting to terminate his alimony obligation and reduce his child support. This matter was denied as emergent and converted to a Motion. Plaintiff filed a Notice of Cross-Motion in opposition to same. The matter was heard by the Court on February 13, 2009. The Court entered an order on the same date, denying the Defendant’s requests to terminate alimony and reduce child support and ordering the parties to appear for a Plenary Hearing on April 6,2009 in regard to same.
DEFENDANT’S REQUESTS TO TERMINATE ALIMONY AND
REDUCE CHILD SUPPORT SHOULD BE DENIED BECAUSE DEFENDANT DISREGARDED COURT RULES BY FAILING TO PRODUCE FULL AND COMPLETE FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE
A complete and current Case Information Statement and a statement of the parties’
finances during the marriage are required to be attached to any application seeking a modification of support. See R 5:5-4. Accurate, complete, and current information is essential on a modification application. The party seeking modification has the burden to disclose and produce documents substantiating his or her current financial circumstances and those that existed during the marriage. The Court is required to consider this information before rendering a decision. See Terry v. Terry, 270 N.J. Super. 105 (App.Div. 1994); See Zazzo v. Zazzo, 245 N.J. Super. 124 (App.Div.1994); certification denied 126 N.J. 321 (1991).
The Defendant did not provide a complete and accurate Case Information Statement, nor did he provide a financial statement pertaining to the parties’ standard of living during the marriage. The Court considers this as the baseline to be used as one factor in analyzing whether a legitimate change of circumstances has taken place. See Crews v. Crews, 164 N.J. 132 (1999); Weishaus v. Weishaus, 180 N.J. 131 (2006). Defendant’s Case Information Statement is not complete. Complete sections are left blank. Notably missing is the income and assets of Defendant’s paramour. Defendant’s paramour works. The Defendant resides with his paramour for a significant amount of time each week. Essentially, they share a home together. The Defendant has admitted to the Court that he does not have any expenses (other than medical expenses), because his paramour pays for everything. Therefore, he has discretionary income to the extent of any direct or indirect financial contributions by his current paramour. This impacts his ability to pay and is a factor to be considered by the Court.
Further, as the Plaintiff will attempt to prove during the Hearing, the Defendant has
fraudulently not fully disclosed all of his income and assets. For example, the Defendant owns a 2003 23' Cobalt Boat with a Bimini top. The suggested retail price on this boat is anywhere between $22,000 and $50,000.00, depending on the exact features and accessories the boat has.
The Defendant owns two jet ski’s, which he often uses with his boat while living his lavish lifestyle with his paramour.
The Defendant owns a 1978 Chevy Corvette, which has an estimated value of anywhere between $10,000.00 - $15,000.00 or more. Plaintiff’s May 9, 2008 Order to Show Cause addressed the removal of this vehicle and other personal property from the former marital residence prior to the buyers moving in. In fact, paragraph 5 of the Court’s May 14, 2008 Order specifically addressed the removal of the vehicle from the formal marital residence. Therefore, it is quite clear that the Defendant is in possession of this vehicle.
The Defendant owns a horse named Nitro, which is currently boarded at Misty Hollow Farm in Lafayette, New Jersey. The cost for boarding was previously $8,000.00 per year or more. The value of the horse is currently unknown, but it is quite substantial. The Plaintiff’s paramour also owns a horse which is boarded at this farm. The Plaintiff recently purchased a two horse trailer so he can take both horses to other places to ride them. It is the Plaintiff’s understanding that this purchase was made recently, during the time the Defendant claimed he was pennyless because of his apparent injuries and inability to work.
In the past the Defendant worked a side job for A&J Trading Company, performing various handyman, electrician work. It is the Plaintiff’s belief that the Defendant is still currently working for A&J, yet he has failed to disclose any income received from same, to both the court and unemployment.
Finally, the Plaintiff recently discovered that the Defendant maintains an account(s) with Sovereign Bank which he has never disclosed. A subpoena for these records was served immediately after the discovery of the accounts. However, because of the fourteen (14) day “right to quash” rule, the Bank was not able to send the documents to the Plaintiff without receiving consent from the Defendant. Therefore, the documents are being forwarded to Your Honor for review prior to the Hearing. Thereafter, the Plaintiff requests that the Court provide both parties’ with copies of the records or in the alternative, disclose to both parties the content of the records.
The Defendant has disregarded the Court Rules. He has an obligation to produce full and complete financial disclosure. He failed to do so. None of the above assets has ever been included in the recent Case Information Statements filed by the Defendant. Further, it is possible the Defendant has not disclosed other assets that the Plaintiff does not know about, especially considering he failed to disclose the above assets.
The Defendant had the nerve to file an Order to Show Cause, claiming poverty and requesting to have money released from the trust so he could pay his medical expenses, all while he had substantial assets that he could have sold in order to pay for same and stay current on his support obligations. This information is essential for the Court to make an informed and fair decision. Accordingly, Defendant’s request to terminate alimony and reduce child support should be denied.
THE DEFENDANT HAS NOT ESTABLISHED A PRIMA FACIE SHOWING OF A CHANGE IN CIRCUMSTANCES TO WARRANT TERMINATION OR REDUCTION OF HIS ALIMONY OBLIGATION TO THE PLAINTIFF OR REDUCTION OF HIS CHILD SUPPORT OBLIGATION.
The law in this state is clear: the party seeking a modification of a support order or judgment has the burden to establish a change of financial circumstances warranting such relief. Lepis v. Lepis, 83 NJ 139 (1980). Before this Court can even entertain the Defendant’s request to terminate his alimony or reduce his child support obligation, it is the Defendant’s obligation to establish, by objective credible evidence, that he has suffered an involuntary and substantial change in his financial circumstances which directly impacts his ability to comply with the Arbitration Award. The Defendant has failed to do this.
In Stamberg v. Stamberg, 302 N.J. Super. 35 (App.Div.1977), the former husband sought to terminate alimony alleging that because of his medical condition he was unable to work and was terminated. The Court found that Mr. Stamberg failed to make a prima facie case of changed circumstances. The Court held that it was his obligation to determine how his illness substantially impaired his ability to support himself. Furthermore, the Court found that Mr. Stamberg’s Case Information Statement did not fully reflect his current income from all sources.
Similarly, the Defendant in this matter has failed to disclose all of his assets and his income from all sources, including direct or indirect financial contributions from his paramour. He claims he is injured and cannot work. However, he has failed to demonstrate that any injuries sustained are permanent in nature, resulting in an inability to be gainfully employed in any capacity. Defendant’s ability to comply with the Arbitration Award has not changed notwithstanding that he is allegedly injured or disabled. This is apparent from his current lifestyle and spending habits, which include residing with his paramour in an area surrounded with lakes, known for its vacation appeal.
THE DEFENDANT HAS FAILED TO PROOF A PERMANENT AND SUBSTANTIAL CHANGE IN CIRCUMSTANCES TO WARRANT TERMINATION OR REDUCTION OF HIS ALIMONY OBLIGATION TO THE PLAINTIFF OR REDUCTION OF HIS CHILD SUPPORT OBLIGATION
Lepis v. Lepis serves as the leading case setting forth the standards and procedures to be followed in modification of support cases. Lepis v. Lepis, 83 NJ 139 (1980). In Lepis, the Court held in part, “support orders are subject to modification upon a showing of changed circumstances. Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139 (1980).” “Changed circumstances are not limited in scope to events that were unforeseeable at the time the support was fixed.” Id. at 152. A change of income however, is only one basis for modifying support and courts Ahave consistently rejected requests for modification based on circumstances which are only temporary@. Lepis, supra.
In Lepis, a former wife moved to increase the child support and alimony provisions in the parties' written property settlement agreement on the basis of need. She also sought an order compelling defendant to produce copies of his two prior year tax returns. The trial court denied her application in full, including her request for fees. She appealed.
The Appellate Division reversed, holding that by denying plaintiff's application without affording her the right to conduct discovery would effectively deny her the opportunity to demonstrate changed circumstances. In affirming the appellate court's holding, the Supreme Court acknowledged the Courts' equitable power to modify support provisions at any time. Id. at 145. Further, it noted the well-settled proposition that support obligations are “always subject to review and modification on a showing of ‘changed circumstances.’ ”Id. at 146.
The Lepis court provided the procedure for modification of support orders. First, the moving party bears the burden of showing that there are permanent and substantial changed circumstances. Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139 (1980). Examples of changed circumstances are found in (1) an increase in the cost of living, (2) an increase or decrease in the supporting spouse=s income, (3) an illness or disability arising after the original judgment, (4) a dependent spouse=s loss of a house or apartment, (5) subsequent employment by the dependent spouse and (6) changes in the tax laws. Id. at 151.
A post judgment change of circumstance analysis requires the Court to compare the parties= financial circumstances at the time of the motion with the parties= financial circumstances at the time the judgment of divorce was entered. Deegan v. Deegan, 254 N.J. Super. 350 (App. Div. 1992).
In the instant matter, it is undisputed that the Defendant was in an automobile accident on or about April 20, 2005. The Defendant claims that he sustained injuries as a result of this accident and that those injuries have made it impossible for him to be gainfully employed. However, the Defendant has failed to demonstrate by objective credible medical evidence that he suffered a permanent injury, within a degree of medical probability which has rendered him unable to be gainfully employed, in any capacity. In fact, the Defendant was denied by Social Security for receipt of Social Security Income (SSI) and has not been approved for receipt of Social Security Disability (SSD), presumably because he has not be declared permanently disabled.
Further, the Defendant settled his personal injury lawsuit for approximately $15,000.00, an award far below his policy limits of 100/300 because he was not able satisfy the verbal threshold, by demonstrating by objective credible evidence that he suffered a permanent injury as required by Category 6 of the Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act (AICRA), N.J.S.A. 39:6A-8a.
In paragraph 8 of his Certification in support of his Order to Show Cause, the Defendant describes that he is in a catch 22 situation. He indicated that his doctors said he is disabled indefinitely and without the proper medical treatment he would never get off the indefinite list. However, he also indicated that should he receive medical treatment, he may be able to get off the indefinite disabled list and go back to work, thereby giving him the ability to pay child support and alimony. This essentially proves that the Defendant is not permanently disabled and that his circumstances, if any truly exist, are only temporary. If he was permanently disabled, he would not be able to be gainfully employed at all, regardless of any money he was going to use for medical treatment. This statement alone proves that the Defendant’s situation is only a temporary change in circumstances, thus not warranting a modification of his alimony and child support obligation.
At the current time, the Defendant resides with his step-mother and paramour. He has no day to day expenses with the exception of his apparent medical expenses, which the Defendant has never proven are outstanding. The Defendant has not disclosed assets which could contribute to his ability to support the Plaintiff at the former marital standard and he has not proven by any credible evidence that any injuries sustained from his motor vehicle accident have rendered him disabled and unable to be gainfully employed in any capacity, at any job. The Defendant could sell several of his assets to help him get the medical treatment he claims he needs. After all, as he stated in Certification, this medical treatment would allow him to come off the disabled list and work so he could pay his support. However, he hasn’t sold anything. The Defendant claims he is too injured to sit for hours at a time which as a result makes it so he cannot work. Yet he is able to go horseback riding with his paramour and gallivant on the lake using his boat and jet skis. Simply put, the Defendant is living a lavish lifestyle, mooching off the support of his paramour. He refuses to look for work because he no longer wants to pay alimony to the Plaintiff and he wants to reduce his child support. He is using whatever injuries he allegedly sustained from his motor vehicle accident as an excuse not to work and pay support. The Defendant has told the Plaintiff for years that he would not pay her alimony or child support, which he previously refused to do as evidenced by the child support Judgment previously entered against him for the over $20,000.00. The Plaintiff is working full time, trying to support two children on a limited income. She is not able to maintain the marital standard of living without financial support from the Defendant. The Defendant has failed to prove that he has a substantial and permanent change in circumstances to warrant the termination or reduction of his alimony obligation and the reduction of his child support obligation. Thus, his requests for same should be denied.
For all the foregoing reasons, the Court must deny the Defendant’s request to terminate his alimony obligation to the Plaintiff and to reduce child support obligation.
Very truly yours,
LAW OFFICES OF EDWARD R. WEINSTEIN, LLC
EDWARD R. WEINSTEIN, ESQ.
cc:Client (via e-mail)