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Trial Court’s Denial of Alimony and Child Support Modification Overturned

April 06, 2018

 

WILLIAM H. MONE reports on a recently published decision from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division. 

 

The parties were married in 1992 and had two children. The parties were divorced in 2010. As part of their divorce, the parties entered into a Marital Settlement Agreement (“MSA”), whereby the Husband was required to pay the Wife alimony and child support totaling $5,000 per month. The Husband’s alimony and child support obligations were based upon his then earned income of $100,000 per year and the wife not having income, but instead attending nursing school. The MSA required that the parties revisit alimony and child support one year after the Wife’s graduation from nursing school in 2013, as she was expected to obtain employment. If the Wife failed to so, the MSA required that income be imputed to her for the purposes of calculating alimony and child support. 

In 2011, the Husband lost his job and obtained new employment 18 months later at a reduced income of $38,400 per year. As a result, he filed a motion to modify his alimony and child support obligations based on the change in circumstances leading to his reduced income. After many document submissions by the parties, the parties appeared before the trial court to address the modification of alimony and child support, but the trial judge informed the parties that there would be no testimony or hearing. Instead, the trial judge heard the parties’ respective oral arguments on the motion and denied the Husband’s motion based upon the record and brief summations by the parties, holding that the Husband had failed to establish changed circumstances.

The Husband subsequently appealed the court’s denial of his motion. He argued that the trial court improperly denied a plenary hearing regarding his motion and that he had established changed circumstances warranting a review of alimony and child support. He also argued that a reduction of child support was needed because one the parties’ children had since been emancipated and the other was entering college. Finally, the Husband argued that the trial court overlooked the MSA’s requirement that alimony and child support be re-calculated one year after the Wife’s graduation from nursing school.

The Appellate Division ruled that the Husband had indeed made a prima facie showing of changed circumstances based on his loss of income, the Wife’s graduation from nursing school, and the MSA’s requirement for a re-calculation of alimony and child support based on same. In addition, the Appellate Division held that said circumstances raised questions of material fact, including whether one of the children was emancipated, which warranted a plenary hearing by the trial court. The case was remanded back to the trial court for a plenary hearing as to the issues in the Husband’s motion.

Please contact William H. Mone if you have any questions or need assistance in connection with this subject.