Reducing alimony in New Jersey

The law has built a number of barriers which need to be cleared before a person’s alimony payments can be altered to a lesser amount. The case of Lax v. Lax, Docket No. A-3832-12T3, 2014 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2509 underlines how hard it can be to these necessities and gain relief. In Lax, the Appellate Division upheld a trial court’s refusal to lower the former husband’s alimony, despite of the fact that his income was less than half the amount used to calculate his payments.

The ruling resolved a prolonged battle within the divorce of David and Frances Lax, who were married from 1986 to 2008. When the couple at first divorced, the husband approved to pay the wife $7,000 per month in permanent alimony. Three years after that, the husband knocked the door of the court again, asking for a decline in his alimony obligation. In the three years, the husband had suffered a harsh financial reversal that caused him to file personal and business bankruptcies.  The husband argued that these bankruptcies constituted the sort of “change in circumstances” required by the law to permit the court to renew the question of alimony. The trial court held a hearing and based upon the proof presented there, determined to impute an income of $115,000 to the husband and decrease his alimony payments to $2,000 per month. A month post alteration, the husband again returned to court, stating that his alimony obligation was still very high. At that time, he had just got a job that paid him $55,000 per year, so the court’s previous calculation, based upon an imputed income of $115,000, was based on faulty figures.

The trial court discarded his motion and the appeals court approved. To succeed in an alimony modification motion, the payor spouse must not only demonstrate that he experienced a modification of circumstances, but that the change is not momentary and is outside his control. In Lax, the necessary proof was not there. The records the husband offered did not ascertain that his present income level was not momentary and, additionally, he did not establish that he was incompetent of earning the $115,000 the court previously imputed to him.

If one’s income has gone considerably down, the law might permit one to pay a smaller amount of alimony to one’s ex-spouse. It can be very difficult to make that possible, though, since there are numerous precise elements one is required to prove.

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