FAQs: Alimony in NJ Part III

Aside from retirement, is there any other way for alimony in NJ to be modified or terminated?

Yes. In 2014, the alimony reforms included the ability to modify alimony payment in the event of a loss of employment, or income reduction. The statute also contemplates a general 'change in circumstances.' When the reason for a reduction is because of the paying spouse's job loss, the court has multiple other factors it must consider when deciding whether a modification is warranted. In other words, job loss alone is not enough to change the alimony obligation.

What factors does the court look at in reducing alimony in NJ due to job loss?

In addition to determining whether the party actually lost their job, the court will look to the reasons for the loss of income, and whether or not the paying spouse has made documented efforts to find new work, or to pursue a different career in the event of a job loss. This includes whether there's been a good effort to find a new job and mitigate the job loss. The court will also look to the parties' health and its impact on their ability to secure employment. If the paying spouse received any severance based on their termination, or if there are any additional financial circumstances which have changed since the original alimony award, that could affect the court's decision. Additionally, the court has the discretion to determine whether a temporary solution should be devised to modify the alimony payments, to relieve some pressure on the paying spouse - so long as they can demonstrate they are continuing to look for work.

When can someone apply for a modification after the job loss?

There is a time limit on when someone can apply to modify alimony in NJ. If the paying spouse has not been able to find employment at the same level as before for at least 90 days, only then can they apply to modify. Before the reform in 2014, the law held that temporary reduction or loss of income was insufficient grounds to modify alimony in NJ.

What if the paying spouse is self-employed - is there any difference in procedure to reduce alimony in NJ?

If the paying spouse is self-employed, they will likely be filing for a modification based on a reduction in income. In that case, the court must examine the economic and non-economic benefits that the paying spouse compared to the same benefits that existed when the original alimony award was determined. This enables the court to determine whether the reduction in income as a self-employed person is in good faith, as well as how reasonable a modification in alimony payments would be.

How can a party successful show that a reduction in alimony is warranted?

The party requesting the court for a modification in alimony in NJ has to show that the loss of employment has resulted in a serious change in the financial situation and that such a change is not temporary. At that point, the court can decide to do several things. The judge can either order a temporary modification while the paying spouse continues to look for work. They can also order a more permanent reduction in alimony, or order alimony to be paid in assets. For example, if the party has an asset that is easily liquidated, then the court might simply award that asset to be paid to the recipient spouse. In addition, the court can also order a periodic review of financial circumstances.

Are there any other grounds by which alimony in NJ can be terminated or reduced?

The alimony reform law passed in 2014 also provided new guidelines for courts to use when determining whether the recipient spouse is cohabitating with another person. If the spouse is found to be cohabitating with another person, then the alimony payments can be suspended or terminated. The new statute no longer allows a modification in payments - therefore, the court has only those two options if cohabitation has occurred.

What does cohabitation entail in NJ?

Under the statute, cohabitation is defined as a 'mutually supportive intimate personal relationship.' Therefore, merely living as roommates would not qualify as cohabitation. It also requires the parties to have taken on the duties and benefits that are usually connected to marriage, even if they do not necessarily live in one house together.

What factors does the court look at when deciding if there is a cohabitating couple?

If there are commingled or intertwined finances, like a joint bank account, this is a good indication to the court of cohabitation. Similarly, sharing living expenses and bills, or the acknowledgment of a serious relationship by the couple, their friends and family would also be factors for the court to look at. Obviously, if the couple is actually living together, the length of their relationship and how often they speak would be relevant. The court will also see if one party financially supports the other in that relationship. If the couple shares chores, and any other factor the court might find relevant in its determination.

Are any of these factors more important than the other? How many does the spouse have to show?

The law does not require that all of these factors are present, nor does it indicate whether one is more important. However, there must be at least some factors present, and overall, the court is interested in whether the relationship is akin to a marital relationship. Proving cohabitation can be difficult, especially when the parties maintain separate households and bank accounts. If the issue of cohabitation is present in your family law matter, it is best to consult a family law attorney with experience in alimony modifications.

Alimony is a crucial issue for divorcing spouses. Also, see Frequently Asked Questions: Alimony in NJ Part 1 and Frequently Asked Questions: Alimony in NJ Part 2. Having a knowledgeable and tenacious attorney on your side can be decisive in your case. If you are going through a divorce, contact the law offices of Peter Van Aulen today for a free, initial consultation at 201-845-7400.

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