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Termination / Modification of Alimony
The Court may revise and alter spousal and child support orders from time to time as circumstances require. Before a court will modify a support amount it must be established that changed circumstances exist. In determining whether or not changed circumstances exist, the Court generally looks at:
It is important to note that any change in circumstance relied upon by a party seeking modification of a support order must be involuntary.
In making an application to modify a support obligation, the party seeking modification bears the burden of showing the existence of changed circumstances. The party seeking modification must make full disclosure of their financial status, including tax returns, before the other spouse's financial status becomes an issue. Once the moving party has made a prima-facie showing of changed circumstances, the respondent's ability to pay becomes a factor for the court to consider.
The following are examples of events that can constitute changed circumstances:
In a divorce agreement, the parties can make specific provisions regarding modification. They can specifically agree that at some point, modification will be necessary. The parties may also agree under what circumstances modification will occur. Conversely, the parties may agree that modification will not be permitted.
When a Property Settlement Agreement specifically provides that alimony will be reviewed upon retirement, a future date, or upon some other triggering event, the standard of review may become an issue. The court may look to whether changed circumstances exist or may choose to consider the statutory alimony factors the legislature has said the court must consider in making an initial award of alimony. These factors are:
This author believes consideration of the statutory factors is the more appropriate standard of review, absent a specific agreement. The changed circumstances approach presupposes that alimony should continue, unless a prima facie change of circumstance is proven. The goal is to maintain the marital lifestyle if possible. However, an agreement to review alimony requires scrutiny of all statutory factors, as they relate to the post-judgment financial environment. It is therefore appropriate that agreements provide what the standard for review will be.
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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