Anti-Lepis Clause Restricting Post Modifications to Divorce Settlement
A divorce settlement agreement is an agreement between two competent adults who are capable enough to foresee their surrounding circumstances. In New Jersey, a court may generally modify a support obligation pertaining to a divorce at any point in time to achieve equity inherent in this State’s alimony law.
In the recent case of, J.H. v. R.J.H., Docket No. A-2087-13T4, 2014 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2600, the New Jersey Appellate Court upheld the authenticity and validity of the Anti-Lepis Clause. This clause evolved as a development from Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139, 416 A.2d 45 (1980), wherein the court held that a party must establish that he/she has experienced a substantial and continuing change in circumstances in order to merit some form of support modification. An Anti-Lepis clause, however, attempts to limit the court’s ability to modify via a waiver by the parties to seek such modification and intends to bar the future modification of alimony.
J.H. and R.J.H. were married in 1998 and eventually divorced in 2012. Pertaining to a Property Settlement Agreement (PSA), containing this Anti-Lepis Clause, R.J.H. was required to pay alimony to J.H. that was subject to decrease over time. This was done so that J.H. could engage herself in a job in the interim. The idea was that since R.J.H. was raising the three children on his own, J.H. would pay child support payments and contribute to the children’s needs. Accordingly, the alimony calculated was $15,600 per year for J.H.
Subsequently, J.H. complained that her part-time earned income ($10,640) was not enough to stand with her liability to pay $15,600 as child support and thereby sought modification to the PSA. To this the Appellate Court of New Jersey upheld trial court’s decision dismissing her appeal reasoning that PSA contained an Anti-Lepis Clause, thus specifically forbidding both parties from modifying their PSA. The appellate court further noted that the PSA signed by both J.H. and R.J.H. had predicted various changes in financial circumstances and barred either party from seeking a modification under most circumstances.
When marital bonds are dissolved, courts of equity frequently reassess the persisting obligation of financial support to one spouse, as also a child support modification under genuine changed conditions. However, presence of an Anti-Lepis Clause can restrict the court from making any such modification, given the addition of such a clause with an aim to adequately predict various changes in financial circumstances.