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Alimony Modifications

An Order for alimony defines only the present obligations of former spouses and, whether set by a court or agreed upon by the parties, is always subject to review and modification on a showing of “substantial change in circumstances.” Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139 (1980). Changed circumstances in each specific case are extremely fact sensitive.

There are many common scenarios that usually give rise to requests to modify (suspend/reduce/terminate) alimony, including the following:

  • Loss of employment
  • Decline in income
  • Serious illness or disability
  • Significant increase in the recipient spouse’s income
  • Failed Business Endeavors
  • Retirement
  • Cohabitation by the recipient spouse

It is important that those seeking to suspend, modify or terminate alimony understand that a change in income may be considered by a court if it was “involuntary.”  If a paying spouse decides to give up a lucrative medical practice to fulfill the party’s dream of painting (and it is less lucrative), the court may not modify a spousal support order related to reduce income from these types of voluntary career changes. 

It is also important to note that the standards that apply to your modification may differ, depending on when you entered into the Agreement (i.e., before or after the new alimony statute, September 10, 2014). 

Under the new statute, it is relevant as to whether you are a self-employed individual or non-self-employed individual, as there may be different standards that apply.

  • For non-self-employed individuals, the amendment provides that, where the changed circumstances arise from a loss of employment, an obligor may seek relief after merely 90 days (but no sooner) of having been unemployed, or unable to return to or attain employment at prior income levels (or both).
  • For self-employed obligors, the amended law provides that, in the event of an involuntary reduction of income, any request for relief must include an analysis detailing “the economic and non-economic benefits the party receives from the business” and a comparison of such benefits to those existing at the time of the order upon which modification is sought.

When seeking a termination or modification based on retirement, the timing of your agreement is equally critical.  The amendment to the alimony statute has three standards:

  1. Early retirement
  2. Retirement at the attainment of full retirement age (i.e., age upon which you can receive full Social Security benefits – 67 for most people) for new matters
  3. Retirement at full retirement age for matters that pre-dated the amendments to the statute.

The specific facts and circumstances surrounding your need to modify support (or if you have been told your support may change) are relevant.  Each person’s case is different and may lead to a different outcome.  It is critical that you meet with an experienced matrimonial attorney familiar with these types of cases, such as the matrimonial team at Gebhardt & Kiefer.