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The Bad Economy is Forcing Many Divorced Spouses to Try to Reduce Their Alimony and Child Support Payments
Is the bad economy forcing any divorced spouses to try to reduce their child support and alimony payments?
Absolutely. In this day and age the family courts are swamped with Lepis motions that are requesting to reduce alimony and child support payments. When a couple reaches a divorce agreement, they are hopeful that after many months if not years of fighting, their financial matters have finally been settled. At this juncture, both spouses are hopeful that they can live the rest of their life in peace. However, the economic crash has thrown a "monkey wrench" into many of these well intentioned divorce settlements. Many divorced spouses are now forced to go back into court and to try to reopen or renegotiate the terms of their divorce settlement. Many divorce spouses have lost their jobs, been downsized, or have been forced to take a lesser paying job because it was the best one available.
Life in these hard economic times can throw you a lot of curve balls. As a result, any competent lawyer must advise their matrimonial client that in all likelihood they will have to deal with a Lepis motion sooner than later. It used to be that once you made a deal in the divorce court that it was "written in stone." However, now in the world of family law, alimony is being modified all of the time, and child support can be reduced or stopped if there is a "change of circumstances" Family law is an entirely different ball game than it used to be in the 60's and 70's. It is unfair to simple label spouses who do not pay child support and alimony as simple deadbeats. For every case wherein there are significant alimony or child support arrears, there is a genuine catastrophe wherein someone has lost their job.
What type of strategy should I use to try to convince my ex- spouse to agree to reduce my support payments?
If you are the person making the alimony or child support payments, then the following tips may be helpful to your case:
I have just lost my job at the GM plant, can I just stop making my child support payments until I find another one?
You should always pay your child support. New Jersey law is very clear about the payment of child support, and it can only be stopped if you obtain a court order that stays it or reduces. If you don't pay your child support, then you can go to jail on the grounds of contempt. In dire circumstances, it is best to make at least partial payments. If you only are making partial support payments, then you will be accruing arrears, however, most judges will be reluctant to lock you up as long as you have been trying to pay.
If I am able to convince my wife to accept a lower child and alimony payment will they be permanently reduced?
Probably not. In most consent orders that reduce child support and alimony, the payments are only reduced for a set period of time, and are subject to review after a reasonable period of time. The family courts are courts of equity, and they like to do "the right thing." If you are in the dumps then most judges will be reasonable and grant you relief. However, as soon as you recover, the family courts will want you to "get back on speed" can start paying some significant support once again. If you suddenly find a better paying job, then you can't hide this fact from your ex-spouse and the court. If you do try to hide these facts, then once you find yourself back into court, then most judges will hammer you.
My ex-husband has approached me to inquire if I would accept a reduction of my child support and alimony payments until he got another job. How should I respond?
If you are the person who receives the support payments then you should try to be as reasonable with your ex-husband as possible. However, you should verify any type of story that he is trying to sell you. You should request to see any and all documentation that verifies your ex-spouse's claim of an inability to pay. This type of documentation should be his bank statements, payroll stubs, W-2's, commission statements, and tax returns, etc.
You should "Hear your ex-spouse out." Moreover, you should explore your alternatives with your lawyer. What will be the likely outcome if you don't negotiate with your ex-spouse? Will your ex-spouse be successful if he files a motion to reduce his child support and alimony. In this brutal economy, your ex-husband may very well be successful in any Lepis litigation. For all practical purposes, you always want to sit down and be as reasonable with your ex-husband as possible. However, you should also always be careful to protect your legal rights. Your ex-husband could obtain a new job next month and make twice as much as he earned before. Not likely, but entirely possible, and not outside the realm of possibility. Moreover, you should be open minded. You and your ex-spouse could reach an accord on many legal issues that a court can't address. You might agree to extend the term of alimony payments, thereby reducing the size of each monthly payment. Nonetheless, you should not sacrifice too much. Finally, you should also work with your lawyer to draft an agreement that provides you with some added benefits, but still provides your ex-husband with some financial relief from alimony and child support.
New Jersey is an equitable distribution state, meaning that the division of property in a divorce is to be done fairly, not necessarily equally. The court can take into consideration any factor it deems relevant when dividing property, but it must consider certain factors, such as how long the couple was married and the age and health of both spouses, the income or property brought to the marriage by each spouse, the standard of living that was achieved during the marriage, and the extent to which one spouse may have deferred career goals, among others.
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