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Alimony Reduction Motions are Decided on a Case-by-Case Basis
How are alimony reduction motions usually decided?
It is very important to emphasize that alimony reduction motions are decided on a case by case basis. This legal concept often makes many litigants very upset and some even enraged. Your case could be exactly like your neighbor's case who had his alimony terminated. However, you could lose your case even though you had the same disability or if you lost your job just like your neighbor did. There are many variables in the family court system, many that I can't write about. A very illustrative case is Kuron v. Hamilton, 331 N.J. Super. 561 (App. Div. 2000). Here, the Appellate Division held that it would not adopt any bright-line rules, but that it consider any alimony modification applications on a case-by-case basis. At issue in the Kuron case was the question whether an attorney's incarceration and disbarment was a sufficient change of circumstances to justify a reduction of alimony. Alternatively, the court could rule that the attorney's incarceration and disbarment was only voluntary conduct for change of circumstances purposes.
The Kuron court ultimately held that a bright line test to analyze any alimony reduction motion. The court further held that it must analyze the totality of the circumstances when it rules on any alimony reduction motion. Thus, the Kuron court refused to use any type of absolutes when it ruled on the Lepis motion. In summary the Kuron court held that a "per se test is inconsistent with this State's established standards for evaluating petitions for modifcation." See, Kuron v. Hamilton, 331 N.J. Super. 561, 570 (App. Div. 2000); (Further holding that rejecting a rule that voluntary conduct necessarily precludes a modification of support on the basis of changed circumstances).
Could you please cite some cases that support the doctrine that alimony reduction cases are decided on a case-by-case basis?
A. Deegan v. Deegan, 254 N.J. Super. 350 (App. Div 1992). Here, the court held that in determining whether husband's voluntary early retirement constituted a change in circumstances thus warranting a reduction of his alimony payments, the trial court was required to conduct a full review of the financial circumstances of both parties.
B. Larbig v. Larbig, 384 NJ Super. 21 (App. Div. 2006). Here, the court held that whether an alimony payment should be reduced upon the grounds of a change of circumstances rests within a Family Part judge's sound discretion. The Larbig court further held that each and every motion to modify an alimony obligation 'rests upon its own particular footing and the appellate court must give due recognition to the wide discretion which our law rightly affords to the trial judges who deal with these matters.' Id. at 21.
How difficult is to obtain a reduction of alimony in the family court?
In this terrible economy more and more divorced men are finding it impossible to keep up with their alimony payments. Unfortunately, many divorced men are simply not aware that they may be able to reduce or even terminate their alimony because of their to their economic circumstances. This is no easy task at all. However, neither was defeating the Germans in World War II. Neither was it for the Red Sox to come back and beat the Yanks in 2004 after being down three games to none. Finally, it was not an easy Task for Frodo Baggins to obtain the ring and then throw it into the volcano in the epic Lord of the Rings adventures. Reducing or even terminating your alimony is a worthwhile goal, and under the right circumstances, and with hard work and some luck it could happen.
If you are someone who is no longer employed, or if you have experienced a loss of income then you could qualify. For example, if your hours at work have been reduced, and if you are racking up massive credit card debt to survive, then you may qualify for a reduction of your alimony payments. Nonetheless, it is important to emphasize that an alimony reduction motion is determined on a case by case basis. Moreover, you are required to demonstrate to the court that your loss of income or inability to find work constitutes a change of circumstances.
The bottom line is you should know your legal rights. Do not wait and do nothing until you are locked by a county sheriff on a bench warrant. The legal standard to reduce alimony is difficult to satisfy. However, alimony reduction motions are granted every day at your local county family court. The biggest mistake that a divorced man could make is to stop paying his alimony payment, and just hope that his problems disappear. Believe me they won't. In summary, each and every motion to reduce alimony rests upon its own merits and legal grounds. Moreover, a review of the appellate cases clearly indicate that the trial judges are given wide discretion to "make the call." See also, Martindell v. Martindell, 21 N.J. 341, 355 (1956); see also Rolnick v. Rolnick, 262 N.J. Super. 343, 359 (App. Div. 1993).
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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