Can a change in employment status result in a change in child support or alimony obligations?

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In some circumstances, parties may apply to the court for a reduction in alimony or an adjustment of child support.  It is crucial to make a good case in support of the application.  Otherwise, the outcome could be different from the expected result.

Take the  matter that is the basis of the unpublished court opinion of Bechtold v. Clauss, No. A-1146-13T2 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Dec. 31, 2014).  The parties in this case had a twenty-year marriage that ended in divorce in 2008.  Provisions for alimony and child support were included in the property settlement agreement (PSA), referenced as a part of the divorce decree.  The agreement also included a stipulation that it could be amended based on a change in circumstances.

At the onset of their marriage, the plaintiff was a professional ballet dancer.  After their children were born, the parties agreed that the plaintiff would not work outside the home.  When it came to divorce negotiations, it was agreed that the plaintiff would return to school to become a registered nurse.  In fact, the defendant contributed to the plaintiff’s education, by placing $35,000 in an interest bearing trust account.  (The money came from the defendant’s share of the marital residence.  The tuition actually totaled $90,000.)

By 2012, the plaintiff became a registered nurse and found a job as a school nurse.  The defendant considered this a change of circumstances and applied to the family court to terminate the alimony.  In addition, the defendant used this as his basis for requesting a reduction in child support payments.  The defendant claimed that he understood the original agreement to mean that if his former wife’s salary equaled alimony payments, the alimony would cease.  The defendant even took it upon himself to end the alimony payments before his application was heard in court.

The requested modification of the agreement resulted in a three-day hearing.  To the chagrin of the defendant, the family court judge reduced the alimony payments, but did not terminate them.  The reduction in alimony called for the defendant to pay more child support, because his former spouse was receiving less income.  According to the Appellate Division court, it was up to the trial judge’s discretion to determine if a modification of the original agreement was warranted.  Plaintiff was able to provide proof that her standard of living was still diminished since the divorce.  Meanwhile, the defendant was not able to demonstrate that the alimony payments were adversely causing him financial hardship.

Post-judgment applications require skilled legal representation.  Samuel J. Stoia  has significant experience with evaluating cases for a change of circumstances.  Contact Attorney Stoia to review your particular situation.