It depends upon the facts of your case. The lawyers at our law firm located in East Brunswick, New Jersey, have handled many alimony cases in which our client lost their job and is now looking for a new position. Under New Jersey alimony laws, when your attorney files a motion to terminate or reduce payments, your lawyer must provide evidence to prove your case. As an attorney with decades of experience, I am well aware that these cases are always strictly scrutinized by a judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey. In the following case, the person paying alimony filed this type of motion and lost. The reason that they lost is because they (or their lawyer) failed to provide enough proof to the judge that they tried to obtain a job with a n annual salary that is comparable with their previous job or career. Next is a case that shows how a New Jersey Family Court analyzes these types of alimony motions.
In M.L.M. v. M.W.M., the parties were married for nineteen years and had three children born of the marriage, aged twenty-four, twenty-two, and fourteen. M.W.M. served in the Marine Corps until retiring in 2005. After retirement, M.W.M. worked at a technology company, then as course director of a Marine Corps University. M.W.M. then worked for Sears Holding Corporation at Sears and Kmart, earning $177,000 per year until May 2014. M.L.M. earned very little during the marriage. She worked for Camp Fire USA as a program supervisor, earning approximately $27,000 in 2010.
On April 27, 2011, the parties divorced by final judgment of divorce, which included a property settlement agreement addressing major issues, such as child support, custody, alimony, and equitable distribution. Pursuant to the parties’ property settlement agreement, M.L.M. was made the parent of primary residence while M.W.M. was the parent of alternate residence, meaning the parties’ children lived mainly with M.L.M. M.W.M. agreed to pay M.L.M. permanent alimony in the amount of $865 per week until M.L.M. remarried or M.W.M. retired. M.W.M. also agreed to pay $379 per week in child support for the parties’ three children. The parties determined these calculations for the property settlement agreement by agreeing to say that M.W.M. earned $195,000 per year and that M.L.M earned $37,000 per year.
M.W.M. continued to pay child support for the parties’ third child after the other two children went away to college. M.W.M. was working at Babies R Us after the divorce, but his position was terminated in May 2015. M.W.M. allegedly began looking for a new job with a similar salary but was unable to find such a position. He also claimed that the parties discussed the youngest child living with M.W.M. at this time. M.W.M. eventually secured a position earning $100,000 annually with a one-time bonus of $10,000. He also took informal custody of the parties’ youngest child in September 2015 and stopped paying child support in November 2015, pursuant to the property settlement agreement.
M.W.M. filed a motion with the court seeking to reduce alimony to $519 per week in February 2016. After he filed the motion, M.W.M. lost his job and went back to work for Kmart earning $80,000. M.L.M. filed a cross-motion with the court asking the court to order M.W.M. to comply with his financial obligations under the parties’ property settlement agreement. The judge deciding the motions pushed the hearing back until the parties could attend mediation as required by the property settlement agreement for the custody issues. Once the judge heard the motions, the judge denied M.W.M.’s request to decrease alimony on October 4, 2016. The court found that M.W.M. did not establish that a reduction in alimony was necessary based on a permanent change in circumstances. After the hearing, the parties attended mediation, which was unsuccessful. M.W.M. then filed a motion asking the court to reconsider the denial of his request to decrease alimony. The court denied M.W.M.’s motion for reconsideration on January 6, 2017.
On appeal, the New Jersey Appellate Division stated that the trial court’s decision is binding when supported by credible and adequate evidence. The Appellate Division explained that it would only overturn the trial court’s decision when there has been an abuse of discretion. Additionally, the Appellate Division explained that marital agreements are generally valid and enforceable because they are voluntary and consensual. However, the court stated that the terms of alimony are always subject to modification by the court based on a substantial change in circumstances. The Appellate Division noted that the party seeking to modify alimony is the party responsible for showing the change in circumstance and that temporary circumstances are not sufficient for modification.
M.W.M. argued on appeal that the judge abused her discretion by finding that there was no permanent change in circumstance and that M.W.M. failed to provide acceptable proof of comparable employment. The Appellate Division explained that several factors determine if there has been a substantial change in circumstances, including the reasons for the new employment, the availability of work, age and health, and the former spouse’s need for support, among other things. The court found that M.W.M. did not provide sufficient proof of a change in circumstance because M.W.M.’s tax returns indicated that he was earning more income that set forth in the parties’ property settlement agreement. Also, the court stated that M.W.M. failed to provide his current salary or description of his position at his new place of employment. The Appellate Division held that the trial court judge did not abuse her discretion because she was not provided with sufficient information to determine that downward modification of alimony was necessary. The Appellate Division agreed with the trial court’s reasoning that M.W.M. was earning more than he was at the time of the divorce and that M.W.M. only provided the court with limited evidence indicating he was searching for a comparable job from May to August 2015.
M.W.M. also argued on appeal that the judge was wrong to deny his motion for reconsideration based on the statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(k). The Appellate Division held that the trial court judge did not abuse her discretion by deciding not to apply the factors in the statute because a motion for reconsideration should not be used as a way for the parties to make new arguments not previously made in court. Additionally, the Appellate Division stated that even if the factors were to be applied, they do not support M.W.M.’s position for modification of alimony. The statute indicates that factors for modification of alimony include reasons for loss of income, a good faith effort to find a comparable job, the parties’ health, any severance given, and any other factor deemed appropriate by the court, among other things. The Appellate Division found that the factors of N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(k) do not support M.W.M.’s position for downward modification because M.W.M. did not demonstrate that he attempted to secure new employment or what his qualification for work were. Ultimately, the Appellate Division agreed with the trial court and affirmed its decision.
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