Friday, March 13, 2015
Alimony Terminates On Date Cohabitation Begins Absent Proof Of Delay In Economic Benefit
Schlumpf v. Schlumpf, is a New Jersey Appellate Division case in which the Defendant appealed from two (2) post-judgment Family Court Orders filed in 2013 regarding his alimony obligation following the Plaintiff's admitted cohabitation with her significant other. The Defendant claims that the date terminating his alimony obligation should be adjusted by four (4) months (earlier), to when the Plaintiff admitted her cohabitation. The Plaintiff argued that when she began cohabitating with her significant other she did not, at first, receive an economic benefit from the arrangement and therefore the Order terminating the Defendant's obligation at a certain date should not be modified. According to the Appellate Division, its review of the termination of alimony was "limited to whether the court made findings inconsistent with the evidence or unsupported by the record, or erred as a matter of law." Reese v. Weis, 430 N.J. Super. 552, 572 (App. Div. 2013). A Motion requesting the modification of an "alimony obligation 'rests upon its own particular footing and the appellate court must give due recognition to the wide discretion which our law rightly affords to the trial judges who deal with these matters." Donnelly v. Donnelly, 405 N.J. Super. 117, 127 (App. Div. 2009). Typically, alimony can be altered based upon a changed circumstance which rests with the discretion of a Family Court Judge. Larbig v. Larbig, 384 N.J. Super. 17, 21 (App Div. 2006). A type of changed circumstance would be the cohabitation of a spouse. Gayet v. Gayet, 92 N.J. 149 (1983). The parties in this case expressly acknowledged in their Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) that such an event would constitute a changed circumstance which would warrant the modification of the Defendant's alimony obligation. Beyond cohabitation, there must be proof that a cohabitating spouse is receiving some form of economic benefit from the cohabitation. Reese, supra, 430 N.J. Super. at 557-8, 576. A spouse's proof of cohabitation establishes a rebuttable presumption of changed circumstances that once established shifts the burden of proof to the dependant spouse. Ozolins v. Ozolins, 308 N.J. Super. 243, 248 (App. Div. 1998). In this case, the Appellate Division found that there was no evidence to support the Family Court judge's selection of a particular date for the termination of the Defendant's alimony based only on the Plaintiff's suggested date. A review of the record, indicated to the Appellate Court that the Plaintiff failed to rebut the presumption that she began to get an economic benefit from cohabitating when she moved into her boyfriend's house. Therefore, the court concluded that it was an abuse of the court's discretion to fix the termination date at the date agreed to by the Plaintiff instead of terminating alimony when the Plaintiff and her children relocated to the residence of her boyfriend. The laws governing alimony have recently been changed, making it very important that you seek out the advice of an attorney to protect your rights an entitlements. If you are seeking post-judgment modification of your alimony obligation based upon your ex-spouse's cohabitation 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.