Landers v. Landers

In Landers v. Landers, 444 N.J. Super. 315 (App. Div. 2016) the Appellate Division clarified the application of the September 10, 2014 amendments to the alimony statute addressing the modification of alimony when an obligor retires. Id. at 316. The Appellate Division explained that the application of N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(j)(1) (stating that there is a rebuttable presumption that alimony shall terminate upon the obligor spouse or partner attaining full retirement age) is limited to alimony awards entered after September 10, 2014, and that N.J.S.A.2A:34-23(j)(3) governs review of final alimony awards established prior to September 10, 2014. See Id at 324. 

 In Landers, the parties were divorced on June 24, 1991. Id. at 317. Pursuant to the parties’ Final Judgment of Divorce, the defendant had an obligation to pay a declining amount of unallocated support to the plaintiff and their unemancipated children. Id. After twenty-four years of paying alimony, the defendant moved to terminate his alimony obligation based on the fact that his income consisted of social security benefits and the pension he received as part of the equitable distribution of marital assets at the time of the parties’ divorce. Ibid. The plaintiff sought the continuation of defendant’s alimony obligation. Id. at 318.

The plaintiff argued that defendant’s alimony obligation was not modifiable and suggested that the statutory amendments to the alimony statute did not “affect the terms of a [Final Judgment of Divorce] entered prior to September 10, 2014, the effective date of the amendments.” Id at 318 – 319. After considering oral arguments, the trial judge rejected the plaintiff’s argument and applied the rebuttable statutory presumption and factors outlined in N.J.S.A 2A:34-23(j)(1). Id at 319.

The trial court concluded that the plaintiff failed to overcome the presumption that alimony terminates when an obligor attains full retirement age and granted defendant’s motion to terminate his alimony obligation. Id. The Appellate Division found that the trial court improperly relied on the statutory provisions of N.J.S.A 2A: 34-23(j)(1), and vacated the trial court’s order and remanded the issue back to the Family Part judge to “conduct proceedings as he deems necessary and to apply the burden of proof and specific standards defined in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(j)(3). Id at 324 – 325. 

 Examining the 2014 amendments made to the alimony statute, the Appellate Division reviewed subsections (1) and (3) of N.J.S.A 2A:34-23(j) and the legislative history accompanying the amendments. In doing so, the Appellate Division found, “[u]nlike other amended provisions of N.J.S.A 2A:34-23, subsection (j) distinguishes alimony orders executed prior to the amendment’s effective date and those executed afterwards. Therefore, this unambiguous legislative directive governs a court’s examination of alimony modification requests arising when an obligor retires, depending on the original date alimony is awarded.” Id at 323. The Appellate Division further clarified that N.J.S.A 2A:34-23(j)(1) applies only to final alimony awards entered after September 10, 2014, and found that the defendant’s application to terminate his alimony obligation triggered review pursuant to the factors listed in N.J.S.A 2A:34-23(j)(3) as his alimony obligation was established prior to September 10, 2014. See Id. at 324 (emphasis added).

 For questions regarding modification of an existing alimony obligation due to retirement 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.