Divorce: Post-Judgment Modification During Changing Times
The courts in the State of New Jersey strongly favor parties amicably coming to an agreement within their divorce proceedings whereby a marital settlement agreement and a Final Judgment of Divorce can be concluded. However, parties who hold specific duties and obligations under a written agreement or Court Order do often times experience changes during their lives which may affect their ability to meet those specific duties and obligations. Sometimes changes occur within your needs which require additional support. People can experience changes in their lives resulting from severe financial difficulty during a rough economic climate, an increase or decrease in financial earnings and an increased and decreased ability to pay, an increase in cost of living, employment or unemployment, or an increase in the need of support provided or awarded to a child or a party within a family law matter. Changes in our lives are continuous and for a variety of reasons a person may need help in seeking to modify his or her alimony or support agreement or order.
New Jersey courts have held that written agreements and Court Orders are subject to modification pursuant to a showing to the court that an individual has experienced changed circumstances that would justify a modification of a written agreement or Court Order. It is important that an individual seeking to modify a written agreement or Court Order be informed of the process and applicable factors that may allow for the modification of support.
Lepis v. Lepis, 83, N.J. 139 (1980) is a significant New Jersey Supreme Court case which provides for a decision that allows for modification of alimony and support. In Lepis, the former wife made an application within the Superior Court seeking modification of support and alimony provisions within an executed marital settlement agreement. The Superior Court denied the former wife’s application without requiring the former husband to disclose his actual earnings. The former wife appealed and the Appellate Court reversed and remanded the matter with instructions that would allow for the production of the former husband’s tax returns. The Appellate Court stated that the denial of the former husband to provide discovery despite a showing of increased need by the former wife in effect denied the former wife an opportunity to prove her change of circumstances. The Supreme Court granted the former husband’s petition for certification. The Court held that the former wife established a prima facie showing of changed circumstances whereby the former wife’s needs and her children’s needs have increased due particularly to an increased cost of living.
Courts have the power to modify alimony and support orders. In Lepis, the Court cited to N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23 which provides courts with statutory authority to modify alimony and support orders. In addition to statutory authority, the Court recognized that courts have remedial powers in a fair and equitable manner. The parties to this matter disputed over what constitutes changed circumstances as to allow for a modification of alimony and support order. The Court stated that other courts have recognized changed circumstances warranting modification which have included an increase in the cost of living, increase or decrease in the supporting spouse’s income, illness, disability or infirmity arising after the original judgment, the dependent spouse’s loss of a house or apartment, the dependent spouse’s cohabitation with another, subsequent employment by the dependent spouse, and changes in federal income tax law. The Court has also recognized that courts have consistently rejected modification due only upon temporary circumstances. Furthermore, the Court has stated that when children are involved, an increase in their needs whether occasioned by maturation, the rising cost of living or more unusual events has been held to justify an increase in support.
Should you or your child be experiencing an increased need for which a financially able parent can provide additional support it is important that you seek the counsel of a New Jersey Divorce Attorney. Should you be experiencing difficulties within your life which prevents you or disables you from meeting obligations set forth within a court order or written agreement it is important that you seek the assistance of a New Jersey Divorce Attorney. It is important that you stay informed and you understand your rights pertaining to your Family Law issues.