Changed Circumstances and Support Obligations
by Alicia Hutchinson, Esq. (Marlton, NJ Office)
Contrary to how it may feel when one is going through the process, life does not end after a divorce or break up of a relationship. Things change. Sometimes these changes are happy ones. You might remarry, or get an exciting promotion. Sometimes these changes are difficult ones. You might experience serious medical issues, or lose oneâs job. Sometimes these changes are bittersweet: oneâs child might graduate from high school and go away to college far away. Three, five, or ten years or more down the road, you life will look very different than it did at the moment the relationship ended, so does that mean that your child support or alimony obligation should remain the same forever despite of how much things have changed since it was set?
Happily, no. Support obligations are not carved into immutable stone at the moment they are created. People who are distressed that the changes to the new alimony law are largely not retroactive to existing obligations may be relieved to know that one can seek a modification of an alimony obligation under what is called a changed circumstances basis, or as we say in the profession, under Lepis, after the New Jersey Supreme Court case of Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139, 157 (1980). Likewise, child support obligations are also subject to review under changed circumstances, even when the child support amount was agreed to in the past.
Not only can you ask for a reduction in child support or alimony, you can request an increase if you are the party who is receiving support. What is important when considering a modification of a support obligation because of a change of circumstances is how the situation of both parties has changed, for better or for worse, and how the support obligation is impacting that. Maybe the support amount is now too little. Maybe it is now too high. Maybe it’s no longer fair for it to be paid at all. Any of those could entitle the paying or the receiving party to a judicial reassessment of the support obligation.
Determinations of what constitutes a sufficient change of circumstances to increase or decrease an alimony or child support obligation are made on a case-by-case basis in the New Jersey courts. Some examples of what may be considered a change of circumstances that could entitle someone to a review of their support obligation are:
- A long-term unemployment situation in which the person has diligently sought new employment and has despite this failed to find a new job yet.
- Similarly, the person has suffered a loss of a career or a job and, despite diligent attempts to find new work that would be comparable in terms of pay, was unable to do so and had to take a job that pays substantially less.
- The parties child has been diagnosed with a significant medical issue, and the primary custodial parent has now had to greatly reduce their work hours in order to care for the child even as expenses have risen.
- The party who is receiving support has had wonderful career success and is now earning substantially more money than they were when child support or alimony was determined.
- One of the parties now has another child that is either in their care or that they are paying child support for.
- The party who is receiving alimony has remarried or is living with a new romantic partner.
This list is obviously not exhaustive but merely intended to illustrate some events that might be considered a change of circumstances by the courts. If you feel that you may have had a change of circumstances that would entitle you to either an increase, decrease, or termination of your support obligation we invite you to call us at 856-227-7888 or email [email protected] to schedule a free 30 minute consultation at any of our offices in South Jersey.
The above is not specific legal advice nor does it create a lawyer-client relationship. Do not rely upon it without consulting an attorney to see how the information presented fits your unique circumstances.