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Termination of Alimony - Post Judgment
There is a plethora of case law in the area of post judgment termination of alimony. Since time is limited, I can only comment broadly on the topic and outline some of the more important cases.
Burden of Proof
Lepis requires that a party seeking the modification of a support order make a prima facie showing that changed circumstances have impaired the dependent spouse's ability to maintain the standard of living set forth in the divorce judgment.
To determine if changed circumstances exist the court considers:
In the case of a dependent spouse seeking an increase, she must make an initial showing of changed circumstances before the moving party's ability to pay becomes an issue. If she is successful discovery should be ordered and possibly a plenary hearing.
Some specific examples set forth in Lepis as circumstances that may warrant a modification of alimony include:
Up until recently, the focus in a modification of spousal support case was the standard of living set forth in the judgment of divorce. The case of Crews v. Crews, 164 N.J. 11 (2000) has changed that focus and opened the door for new applications for post judgment modification of spousal support cases. The new focus, according to the Supreme Court of the United States should be on the marital standard of living.
As a result of the decision in Crews, the trial judge in either a contested or uncontested divorce case, must make specific findings as to the standard of living enjoyed by the parties during the marriage. The court must also determine whether the parties will be able to maintain that standard post divorce, either with or without spousal support.
The decision in Crews leaves the door open for a traditional Lepis post judgment application for a modification of support. It also opens the door for post judgment modifications where the support provided in the judgment of divorce was not sufficient to meet the marital standard of living if the supporting spouse can then afford to increase support to meet the standard of living.
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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