If alimony is included as part of a divorce decree, modifying it later is difficult because both state law and the court set a high standard that must be met before a judge will entertain a motion. If a man is having a hard time making ends meet that alone is rarely justification to modify alimony.
The standard seems simple enough. The law requires “a substantial change in circumstances.” In other words, the change has to be major enough to have a direct impact on a man’s ability to meet the terms of the original agreement or decree.
It also has to be an event that was not anticipated when the original alimony payment was written into the order. For example, while your retirement represents a substantial change, if you retire within a year or two of the divorce a judge will likely say that the event should have been anticipated when the alimony was negotiated and thus deny the request.
Furthermore, a court will look at whether any change in your life was involuntary; in other words, you lost your job because your employer downsized for whatever reason and you were handed a pink slip as a result. At the same time, while unemployment is a legitimate reason for modifying an alimony payment, you have to be out of work for three or more months before a court will even entertain it as a reason for modifying the alimony arrangement.
Additionally, taking an early retirement isn’t a valid justification for petitioning for modification, even if your employer offers an attractive package for doing so.
While changing the amount of alimony is difficult to do, it is possible.
Besides unemployment or retirement, there are other reasons why divorced men might seek to modify the original alimony arrangement. Some of these include:
- You suffer a serious illness or disability that affects your ability to pay
- A significant increase in your ex-wife’s income
- Your former spouse remarries or begins living with with a new partner
- Your business fails
- There is a substantial change in your compensation package from your employer
- Some other significant change occurs that affects your ability to pay
Although it involves a somewhat different process and often is undertaken separately from a request to modify alimony, child support orders can also be modified under specific circumstances. These might include events such as the child reaches the age of majority, is no longer in school or has started a job other than part-time employment, or is adopted by your ex-wife’s new husband.
Your obligation as a formerly married man to meet alimony payments is generally spelled out in the divorce settlement or decree. As a matter of public policy, New Jersey laws are written to enforce the agreement, not modify it.
What this means in practical terms is that the circumstances where a court can modify support is limited to the terms you and your ex agreed to in the documents you each signed. At the same time, there is case law in the state that lays out the circumstances where modification is possible – as well as where such a request may be refused.
If you want to discuss modifying your alimony requirements, feel free to call me or any of the attorneys at the family law firm for men in New Jersey. Reach us at either 973.562.0100 in Nutley or, in Montclair, at 862.245.4620.