Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Alimony Reduction As Ex-Wife Cohabitates
In the recent Appellate Division case on appeal from Morris County, Clayton v. Clayton, the Plaintiff William Clayton appealed from a post-judgment Order arguing that the Defendant, Susan Clayton's cohabitant's financial support and her earned income represent a change in circumstances to modify his alimony obligation. This case returned to the Appellate Court after the court remanded it back to the trial court for additional evidence based upon the Plaintiff's application to terminate his alimony obligation upon a change in circumstances. On remand, a new judge took the testimony of the parties and lowered the monthly reduction of alimony from $874 a month to $47. The Plaintiff then filed another appeal making the same arguments that he previously made. The parties in this case were married in 1970 and had four (4) children. They divorce in 1997 and the Defendant moved in with her cohabitant, a man named Stuart Vreeland in 2002. Initially the court found that "Cohabitation alone is not justification to terminate spousal support," and the true test for alimony is the financial needs of the dependant spouse. Gayet v. Gayet, 92 N.J. 149 (1983). The question becomes whether or not the relationship had reduced the needs of the former spouse. Ozolins v. Ozolins, 308 N.J. Super. 243, 247 (App. Div. 1998). The remand judge found that the Defendant's job, which paid her $28,000 a year, did not represent a change of circumstances because she had been employed at the time of the divorce and that her income had remained approximately steady over the intervening years. The judge found that Mr. Vreeland contributed $47 less than his half of the shared expenses and the Plaintiff was in part supporting Vreeland with alimony and therefore the judge reduced the Plaintiff's alimony by $47. The Appellate Division held that the decision whether to modify or terminate alimony based upon a claim of changed circumstances "rests within a Family Part judge's sound discretion." Larbig v. Larbig, 384 N.J. Super. 17, 21 (App. Div. 2006). In this case, the remand judge held a hearing where each party offered his and her testimony on the issues. The court found that if the Defendant's shared expenses represented fixed expenses that the Defendant would incur regardless of whether or not Mr. Vreeland lived with her, then it can be said that his contribution is being used to partly support the Defendant. Using the Defendant's Case Information Statement as well as documents reflecting Mr. Vreeland's contribution the Appellate Court recalculated that the Plaintiff's reduction in monthly alimony should be $934 and not $47. Therefore, the case was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded to enter a correct Order noting the change. If you anticipate that you may want to petition the court for a post-judgment modification of your alimony obligation it is imperative that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about alimony, divorce, child support, equitable distribution, or other family law matters in New Jersey visit HeatherDarlinglawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes and in no way is intended to replace the advice of an attorney.