What if I can no longer afford to pay my support obligations?
Modifications of spousal and child support & the current economic crisis.
By: Diana N. Fredericks, Esq.


Economists have said that this is the worst economic decline our country has seen since the 1920’s. Unemployment in New Jersey has risen to 8.3% and is continuing to increase for the 14th consecutive month. While overtime, bonuses and pay rates are being cut on a daily basis, spousal and child support obligations must be paid or the payor may face loss of driver’s license and even incarceration. Support obligations do not modify themselves because a payor has suddenly lost their job or taken a pay cut. Instead, the burden is on the payor to ask the Court or their former spouse for assistance. 

In New Jersey there are two groups possibly looking to modify their support obligations: those who are currently in divorce proceedings (pre-judgment) and those who have already been divorced (post judgment). Unfortunately the economy has affected everyone including the State. As such several counties have a shortage of Judges and there has been an influx of people filing motions with the Court to modify their support obligations; this has led to longer wait times for trials and backlog. As such, several Judges have indicated that they will begin hearing “second” pre-judgment applications; this means that even if the Judge has set a temporary support payment schedule, they will reconsider same due to the backlog of the Courts and the lengthy time it may take to get divorced. What this means for you is a possible second chance for economic relief if good cause can be shown. 

For those who are already divorced and cannot work with their ex-spouse to reach an agreement, the Courts are available to hear applications for modification of support obligations. The law requires the payor seeking to modify their obligation to demonstrate “substantial and permanent changed circumstances”. Two examples of changed circumstances are 1) an increase or decrease in the supporting spouse’s income or 2) illness or disability arising after the judgment of divorce. 

Mediation is often a more economic and amicable approach than going to Court. However, every New Jersey family is different. Even if you believe the outcome of your application should be clear, a court may see your family’s situation differently. Because so much is at stake financially, you may need the assistance of an experienced attorney.

The experienced matrimonial attorneys at Gebhardt & Kiefer, P.C. appear and represent clients throughout every stage of the divorce process. William W. Goodwin, Jr., Senior Managing Partner of the Matrimonial Department at Gebhardt & Kiefer and his partner William J. Rudnik, are both Certified Matrimonial Attorneys and Mediators. Their associate attorney, Diana N. Fredericks, was the Judicial Law Clerk to the Honorable Thomas H. Dilts in Somerset County. Please contact an attorney at Gebhardt & Kiefer for a consultation.

Gebhardt & Kiefer is a full service law firm located in Annandale, New Jersey, Hunterdon County. We are currently celebrating our 125th Anniversary.