Divorce is one of the most financially stressful events a person can go through. During your marriage, you likely have combined financial resources with your spouse to purchase a home, pay recurring bills, and invest in your retirement. After the divorce, you will have to learn to make ends meet without the full benefit of both incomes. When one spouse is economically disadvantaged or maybe has even been a stay-at-home parent or spouse, he or she may request alimony to help transition into his or her new life as a single person. It is not uncommon for situations to change after a divorce is finalized, and you may be left wondering if it is time to end an alimony award.
Spousal Support and Settlement Agreements
The vast majority of divorces are settled before a contested final hearing. If spousal support is part of your settlement agreement, you will need to carefully review the documents with your family law attorney to determine if the agreement has provisions governing the end of spousal support. Some agreements will have a specific duration of the award, while others may provide that the payments can only be stopped under certain circumstances. If you and your former spouse came to such an agreement, those provisions will almost certainly control over the more general rules found under New Jersey law.
Spousal Support and Cohabitation
Most people will move on after a divorce and find a new partner or spouse. If you are paying spousal support and your former spouse has moved in with his or her new paramour, you may be wondering if this means you can stop paying support. Cohabitation with a new boyfriend or girlfriend is a very common reason to end spousal maintenance, but what is less commonly know is that your former spouse does not have to actually move in with the new paramour to be considered “cohabitating.” New Jersey 2A:34-23 provides a list of factors a court will consider, such as intertwined finances and joint responsibility for financial obligations.
Spousal Support and a Change of Income
When deciding whether your spouse needs spousal support, the court will consider a list of factors, but two of the most important are the receiving spouse’s need and the paying spouse’s ability to make payments. If you experience an unanticipated drop in your income after your divorce, you may need to talk to your divorce attorney about returning to court to adjust the spousal support payments to more accurately reflect your current income. Similarly, if your former spouse gets a wonderful new job or inherits substantial property such that he or she no longer needs your financial support, you may want to return to court and ask the judge to consider the new economic realities.
Change in Circumstances
No matter the reason behind seeking a modification, what you will need to prove to modify your spousal support is a change of circumstances. The change needs to be drastic enough to warrant modifying the order. In other words, a small change in your income may not warrant a change. In addition, the change must be unintentional or unanticipated if you are seeking to reduce or eliminate your payments. This means that you cannot voluntarily quit your job and then ask the court to eliminate your spousal support payments based on the fact you no longer have adequate income.
It is important to understand that just because your income has changed or your former spouse has moved in with her new boyfriend, this does not mean you are allowed to unilaterally make the decision to stop making your court-ordered payments. You will need to return to court to get a new court order modifying the divorce decree. If you just stop making payments without first obtaining permission from the judge, your former spouse can ask that you be held in contempt. You could end up paying not only all the missed alimony payments but also attorney’s fees for your former spouse.
The attorneys at Williams Law Group have extensive experience helping clients with all types of spousal support issues, both during a divorce and after. Contact us today at (908) 738-8512 for a consultation.