How Do I Have My Alimony Lowered In New Jersey?

Your attorney must prove to a Judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey that a significant and likely permanent change in your situation dictate that you can no longer afford to make the alimony payments as per your divorce settlement agreement.  For this reason, the lawyers at our East Brunswick, New Jersey, law firm ensure that our client’s settlement agreement specifically states what annual income amounts were used in order to determine the amount of alimony as your divorce is finalized.  In the case below the person paying alimony, thought their attorney, had sustained a significant reduction in their income and other facts that had changed.  It is also important to note that the divorce settlement also made a review of alimony to be mandatory by a date certain. 

In T.M. v. R.M., the parties were married on September 12, 1992.  The parties had two sons born of the marriage who were in their early twenties at the time the motion was filed.  The parties were divorced on May 5, 2010 after entering into a detailed matrimonial settlement agreement.  A matrimonial settlement agreement is an agreement between the parties of a divorce that lays out the terms of the divorce with regard to child custody and support, alimony, and property division.
 
At the time of the divorce, T.M. was a limited partner with OTR and earning $100,000 per year while R.M. was attending nursing school and unemployed.  In 2011, T.M. lost his job at OTR and was unemployed for eighteen months.  T.M. obtained employment in 2012 earning $38,400 per year.  According to the matrimonial settlement agreement, T.M. agreed to pay R.M. $3,000 per month in alimony and $1,000 per month in child support.  The matrimonial settlement agreement indicated that these amounts were based on T.M.’s salary of $100,000 and R.M.’s salary of $0.  The matrimonial settlement agreement also required that T.M. pay R.M. a percentage of his earnings beyond $100,000 and maintain health insurance for the parties’ children.  Additionally, the matrimonial settlement agreement indicated that the parties would split their sons’ private school tuition and extracurricular activities, as well as unreimbursed medical expenses and college costs.  The parties’ matrimonial settlement agreement also stated that R.M. was expected to graduate from nursing school in December 2013, and that a review of alimony would happen one year after graduation.  The agreement stated that if R.M. did not obtain a degree, an income would be assigned to her for the review. 

T.M. filed a motion with the Superior Court of New Jersey Family Part in 2015 seeking to modify alimony and child support.  T.M. stated that there was a permanent change in circumstances since his income was significantly lower than it was at the time of divorce.  Specifically, T.M. earned $38,400 in 2014, $43,000 in 2015, and was expected to earn $50,000 in 2016.  T.M. also noted that the parties’ matrimonial settlement agreement provided for a review of alimony after R.M. obtained a degree, and T.M. argued that child support should be reduced because the parties’ older son graduated from college and was working full time, and the parties’ other son had started college and was no longer living at home. 

On October 3, 2016, the trial court addressed T.M.’s motion for modification and the motion judge asked the parties to submit paperwork on the issue rather than hear oral testimony.  On January 4, 2017, the motion judge indicated that he was unable to make a decision at the time due to the large volume of paperwork submitted by the parties.  T.M. indicated he wished to provide oral testimony, but the judge did not allow it.  On February 15, 2017, R.M. alleged that T.M. had not paid child support or alimony for two months.  At that time, R.M. asked the court to compel T.M. to pay both alimony and child support, and T.M. told the court that he could not pay the support and that parties’ matrimonial settlement agreement called for modification of support.  The judge then stated that a plenary hearing was necessary to resolve the issue.  A plenary hearing is required when the parties are disputing important facts of the case and testimony is needed to resolve those issues.  On May 23, 2017, the parties appeared before the same judge and were told there would be no testimony given.  After the hearing, the trial judge denied T.M.’s motion for modification indicating that he had not established changed circumstances. 

On appeal, T.M. argued that the trial judge should have granted a plenary hearing to determine if alimony and child support should have been modified because there were issues as to T.M.’s ability to pay and R.M.’s ability to earn income.  The New Jersey Appellate Division stated on appeal that it gives great deference to the trial court’s decisions because the trial court has special expertise in family matters.  The Appellate Division also stated that it would not reverse the trial court’s decision when the decision was made based on adequate and credible evidence.  Additionally, the Appellate Division indicated that matrimonial agreements are presumed to be enforceable because they are intentional and consensual.  However, the court stated that alimony is always subject to review or modification by the court if a party can show a change in circumstances.  The Appellate Division stated that the party seeking to modify must show a change in circumstances that would warrant modification.  Once a change in circumstances in shown, the court is required to hold a plenary hearing.  The Appellate Division noted that events such as a substantial decrease in income could be considered a sufficient change in circumstances.

The Appellate Division also addressed T.M.’s argument that child support should be decreased because the parties’ older son is out of college and working full time, and the parties’ other son is living away at college.  The court stated that emancipation, which occurs when a child is legally considered an adult, does not automatically occur at a certain age, but rather when the child has moved beyond the sphere of parental influence and is independent.  The Appellate Division noted that this determination is fact-sensitive, and the child’s needs, resources, and the family’s financial abilities should be considered.  The Appellate Division stated that living away at college establishes a changed circumstance that could require modification of child support. 

The Appellate Division reversed the decision of the trial court and remanded the issue back to the trial court to hold a plenary hearing.  The court held that T.M. established a change in circumstances by demonstrating his inability to obtain similar employment, R.M.’s graduation from nursing school, and the provision in the parties’ matrimonial settlement agreement requiring review of alimony.  The Appellate Division noted that T.M. offered credible evidence to support his argument that he was unable to pay alimony at the current amount, which was sufficient to require the court to hold a plenary hearing.  Furthermore, the Appellate Division found that the trial court found no findings regarding the provision in the parties’ matrimonial settlement agreement requiring review of alimony one year after R.M.’s graduation.  Lastly, the Appellate Division found that R.M. did not challenge T.M.’s assertions that a plenary hearing was necessary to determine if the parties’ children were emancipated and if a reduction in child support was warranted.  The Appellate Division held that the trial court did not make the findings required by statute regarding child support; therefore, the Appellate Division reversed the decision of the trial court and remanded for the trial court to hold a plenary hearing.

Please contact our law firm if you or a loved one is facing an alimony problem.