We frequently get asked under what circumstances an established alimony award can be modified (either increased, decreased or terminated). While the answer to this question is largely fact dependent and varies from case to case, our law offers some guidance as to what scenarios are appropriate for a review of an existing alimony award.
In terms of procedure, the analysis of whether alimony should be modified is a two-step process. First, the moving party (the person requesting the modification) must meet the burden of displaying substantial “changed circumstances.” Changed circumstances for a payor of alimony could include retirement, illness, disability, significant loss of income, unemployment or other factors that would impact their ability to pay. Changed circumstances for a recipient of alimony, such changed circumstances could include remarriage (terminating alimony), cohabitation, inheritance, or health issues.
Second, if a court is satisfied that the moving party has established their burden of displaying a substantial change of circumstance that may impact the current alimony award, it is typical for discovery to be exchanged and a hearing date set to determine the amount, if any, that alimony should be modified. This hearing is referred to as a plenary hearing, which is akin to a trial. At the plenary hearing, a judicial ruling will be made as to any modification (including a potential increase) of the alimony award. While every judge differs as to what constitutes the open-ended concept of a “substantial change of circumstance”, the more detail a litigant can provide during trial regarding the financial impact of their purported change is always an effective presentation tool. For example, if a party is claiming that a disability has impacted their ability to earn, providing an expert to opine as to their decreased earning capacity is recommended. It is also important to retain and produce historical documents from period associated with the initial divorce to assist the court in identifying changes of circumstances that have occurred since that time.
For questions regarding alimony modifications or any other family law related issue, please contact the attorneys of Ulrichsen Rosen & Freed LLC. Our firm is focused exclusively on the practice of family law and serves clients throughout New Jersey including clients residing in Mercer County, Somerset County, Hunterdon County, Burlington County and Middlesex County.