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Court Finds Husband in Contempt...
For Failing to Pay Alimony Despite His Receipt of Severance Pay

In a recent Superior Court decision, a wife’s post judgment motion for contempt was granted where a husband failed to comply with his alimony obligation. The parties were divorced in 2009, and pursuant to their separation agreement, the husband was obligated to pay the wife alimony in the amount of $550.00 per week for a period of three years, followed by $450.00 per week for a period of seven years. The husband was also obligated to contribute toward the cost of college expenses incurred on behalf of the parties’ daughter.

In September, 2011, the husband was laid off. However, as part of a severance package, he received 104 weeks of pay in the gross amount of $229,424.00. From said severance pay, the husband continued to make alimony payments until February, 2012. During that time he paid a total of approximately $12,500.00. The Court found that the husband spent the remainder of the severance on personal expenses, including, among other things, credit card debt and boat slip fees. Although the husband began receiving unemployment compensation in March of 2012, he did not resume making alimony payments, and by May of 2012, was in arrears by approximately $8,500.00.

The court found that in light of the husband’s severance pay, he had sufficient funds to make the required alimony payments. As the court explained, the husband was not relieved of his obligation simply because he spent the majority of the funds on personal expenses.

Notably, the court also denied the husband’s motion to modify his alimony obligation. The court explained that if a party’s culpable conduct causes an inability to pay an alimony award, the threshold question of whether a substantial change in circumstances exists is not met. In this case, the court found that the husband’s inability to pay alimony was the result of his own culpable conduct in that he spent his severance on his own personal expenses rather than setting aside an appropriate amount to cover his alimony obligation.

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