How Your New Relationship Can Affect Your Alimony
By Snyder & Sarno on November 25, 2014
In New Jersey, an alimony award can be modified if a payor shows that there are “changed circumstances” under Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139 (1980). In many cases, cohabitation with a new partner can be enough to justify changed circumstances if there is an additional showing that the new partner reduces the needs of the ex-spouse. Ozolins v. Ozolins, 308 N.J. Super 243 (App. Div. 1998). Absent a specific agreement, cohabitation alone is not enough to justify a change in alimony. Gayet v. Gayet, 92 N.J. 149 (1983). There must be some financial relationship between the alimony recipient and the new partner.
In the recent case of Clayton v. Clayton, the ex-husband sought a reduction in his alimony award based on his ex-wife’s cohabitation with a new man. After a hearing, the initial trial judge found that the ex-wife’s new partner was contributing to her expenses and reduced the ex-husband’s alimony obligation by $874 per month. Unsatisfied with this result, the ex-husband appealed, arguing that his alimony obligation should have been terminated. His ex-wife cross-appealed, arguing that the alimony shouldn’t have been modified at all. The Appellate Division remanded the issue to the trial court for more specific findings as to why the alimony was reduced by $874 per month.
On remand, a different trial judge held a hearing. After the hearing, the trial judge reduced the ex-husband’s alimony obligation by only $47 per month. In analyzing the overall amount that the ex-wife’s new partner was contributing toward her expenses, the trial judge determined that the ex-wife’s shelter expenses were not “fixed expenses,” meaning that she would not have paid these expenses if her new partner was not living with her. In effect, the trial judge determined that a bulk of what the new partner was contributing was going toward expenses that he created, not expenses that the ex-wife would have incurred if the new partner wasn’t living with her. The Appellate Division disagreed and found that the ex-wife would have paid the same amount for shelter even if she were living alone, meaning that her shelter expenses are “fixed expenses”. As a result, the Appellate Division held that the ex-wife’s new partner was was contributing toward her personal expenses, not her shelter expenses, thereby reducing her need for alimony.
Rather than remanding the issue to the trial court again, the Appellate Division calculated how much the new partner was contributing toward the ex-wife’s expenses by examining how much money the new partner contributed each month as compared to the cost of their shared, not fixed, expenses. The Appellate Division found that the new partner made excess payments of $934 per month that were used to support the ex-wife. Thus, the ex-husband’s alimony obligation was reduced by $934 per month.
This case is one example of how alimony and child support issues that are decided in a divorce may not be as final as they seem when the divorce judgment is entered. Alimony and child support are always subject to modification based on changed circumstances. If you need help with a modification of your support obligations or have other questions regarding your divorce, the experienced attorneys at Snyder & Sarno, LLC can help. Call us today at (973) 274-5200.
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