Thursday, January 15, 2015
Reluctance To Terminate Alimony Appealed
In Bechtold v. Clauss, the Defendant, Robert Clauss, appealed from a 2013 Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Part Order from Union County that reduced his alimony obligation and re-adjusted his child support obligation. The Defendant contends that the court should have terminated his alimony and applied any reduction in his alimony amount retroactively. The parties in this case were married in 1988 and had two (2) children. They sought and obtained a divorce in 2008. After the parties' children were born, the Plaintiff did not work outside of their home. Their final divorce judgment incorporated a property settlement agreement (PSA). The PSA specified that the Plaintiff would continue pursuing a degree to become a registered nurse and that "it [wa]s hoped that the [Plaintiff]'s anticipated vocation as a Registered Nurse would substantially impact [Defendant]'s ongoing alimony obligation to [Plaintiff]." In fact, the Defendant funded, through a dedicated interest bearing trust account, $35,000 toward the Plaintiff's schooling from his share of the marital residence. Further, the PSA stipulated that the alimony obligation shall be subject to modification based upon either party's ability to show "changed circumstances." The Plaintiff became a registered nurse in 2012 and started to work as a school nurse. In July of 2012, the Defendant filed a notice of his intention to file a Motion to modify child support within 45 days pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.23(a). After another five (5) months and unsuccessful mediation attempts, the Defendant filed a Motion to terminate his alimony and reduce his child support based upon changed circumstances now that his wife was employed as a school nurse. After a hearing with regard to the issues, the Family Court judge entered an Order reducing the Defendant's alimony obligation to $350 a week ($18,200 per year) and awarded the Plaintiff with $260 per week in child support. The Defendant appealed from this decision. The Defendant argued that the Family Court judge should have terminated his alimony obligation because he did not make sufficient findings with regard to the parties' marital lifestyle. According to the Appellate Division, "Whether an alimony obligation should be modified 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). The Appellate Court found that the judge wrote a detailed and thorough opinion on the matter in which he found that the Defendant was not a credible witness. The judge found that the Plaintiff's testimony was credible and noted that although she received $35,000 for her education, it cost over $90,000. The judge then analyzed all of the alimony factors found in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b) in rendering his decision to alter the alimony obligation instead of terminating it. If you anticipate that you may want to petition the court for a post-judgment modification of your alimony or child support obligations it is imperative that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about alimony, child support, post-judgment modification, 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.